The winds of change are blowing in the windy city.
On Monday, 26,000 members of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) went out on strike for the first time in a quarter-century.
The men and women of the CTU are striking not for themselves but for the children of the Chicago Public School System, the third largest in the country, who have to deal with not having enough textbooks to go around, class sizes of 35 to 40 students (the largest in the state of Illinois), and chronic under-funding of essential school services.
The story is a familiar one for just about every city and small town in the United States. Class sizes have swelled to unmanageable dimensions, funding has been slashed across the board and students lose out on a quality education while teachers are scapegoated by politicians with no answers (or bad answers) of their own for why American education is in the state that it’s in.
Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago and former White House Chief of Staff for President Barack Obama, has been relentless in his attacks on Chicago public school teachers, backed in large part by his handpicked school board (which is full of millionaires and billionaires with no actual educational experience) and Chicago media outlets which jump at the chance to deride teachers as “lazy” or “inept.”
Emanuel, like so many in the political establishment, offers solutions that would do nothing to actually improve the quality of education in the city of Chicago. Instead of promising to increase funding for Chicago public schools, he’s made a goal of converting half of the public schools in Chicago to for-profit (but subsidized by the taxpayer) charter schools. In response to weak test scores (which correlate pretty strongly with poverty and lack of resources in schools), he proposes linking teacher pay with how well their students do on standardized tests.
The president and otherwise well-meaning politicians continue to say we need to increase accountability and standards to remain competitive in the global economy. We need to introduce charter schools and voucher programs, because public education just isn’t working anymore.
Here’s a thought – public education might be suffering in the United States because most schools don’t have enough money.
Instead of demonizing teachers, how about we start giving them the tools they need to educate our kids?
Column by Devin Griggs. Devin is vice president of finances for the Murray State College Democrats.