To Defeat Goliath, Chicago Parents Must Become Goliath
For school choice to be realized, parents must create a mass movement
When trying to find the best restaurant in an area, people tend to turn to the internet, look for a list of eateries in the area, and visit their website. The more diligent may search out Yelp for reviews. If at least seven out of 10 comments are positive, you are likely to feel good about your choice. If only three of 10 found the restaurant appealing, however, most would avoid that restaurant and it would eventually close its doors.
Now, let us apply that same logic toward Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Parents live in a neighborhood, send their kids to schools that their tax dollars pay for and discover that, overall, 30 percent of students are unable to read and 17 percent are unable to complete basic math problems. Yet, instead of being able to choose a higher performing school, their kids are stuck in failing schools because of politics and unions.
On Thursday, January 25, the Chicago Board of Education voted to renew charter schools’ contracts but for only three or four years as opposed to prior agreements that allowed for renewal up to ten years. Additionally, charter schools will be under the microscope with more vigor — especially in how they deal with English language learners and those students with disabilities. Other preconditions imposed by the renewal include teacher licensing and financial issues.
With the contract window dramatically more reduced than in the past, charter schools will have significantly less time to prove their worth over CPS’ hopelessly failing schools. An odd development, it is fair to inquire where is the Board of Education’s scrutiny of CPS?
Opponents of school choice, like Chicago Teacher Union (CTU) President Stacy Davis Gates, are obsessed with equity. As reported by WBEZ education reporter Sarah Karp, Gates attempted to equate schools with sneakers. Gates stated:
“School choice means you have four pairs of Nike and you have to choose one of the good sneakers. But school choice is not a choice between four Nikes.”
In other words, all schools are not created equal. While this may be certainly true, this is the main thrust behind the school choice movement. Why should parents and children be chained to ineffective public schools if they can choose something better?
It all comes down to money. Mayor Brandon Johnson admitted his intention to rid education of choice. Meanwhile, the state of Illinois has just gutted the Invest in Kids tax credit, a consequence of which is the closing of two Catholic schools. Opponents of school choice assert that it takes monies from public schools. However, when public school enrollments decline, they should not require as much money to operate. In reality, the battle over school choice revolves around control over schools. Democratic legislators in Springfield, the CTU, and progressive groups want to continue to decide what is best for children without parental input.
Nevertheless, there is a way for parents to make their voices heard. On January 22, New Trier Neighbors hosted “An Evening with Ian Rowe.” A senior fellow at both the American Enterprise Institute and at the Woodson Center, Rowe also co-founded Vertex Partnership Academies in New York. Speaking forthrightly, Rowe told those in attendance what will be needed to end the assault on school choice:
“We had all these, you know, low-income folks who in many ways in their lives felt like this is a David versus Goliath, and we can’t beat these people. But we flipped that on its head and we said, ‘You’re actually the Goliath.’ If we’re effectively able to mobilize, then when you come together, your voice as parents can overwhelm these other forces.”
Though Mayor Johnson and Governor J.B. Pritzker were delivered to office by the same parents who want school choice, the issue should be a catalyst to bind school choice proponents together to protest the move toward "equitable schools”, meaning that all students receive a poorer education. Rather than fixing what is wrong with S.S.CPS, political forces are pushing charter, magnet, and selective-enrollment schools toward the iceberg. If not, all low-income students can be saved, then none of them will be. This all or nothing proposition is absurd.
What, then, makes charter and private schools different? First, many focus on faith. There are no constraints on discussions about God and values in the classroom. For example: Two other guest speakers at the New Trier Neighbors function, Preston Kendall of Cristo Rey Saint Martin College Prep and Jennifer Burns of Classical Consortium Academy, both discussed the importance of God in the classroom. In her address to the audience, Ms. Burns pointed reminded guests:
“We are in this cycle of believing that education is all about producing producers and consumers. And it’s so much bigger than that. It is about lifting our students’ eyes higher to God…”
Teaching values is paramount to education. Public schools in Chicago are missing that component.
Second, it is essential curricula meet the needs of learners. The Classical Consortium Academy focuses on the classic: Grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Burns created a hybrid where students come to school one to two days a week, then for the remainder of the week students are homeschooled.
Cristo Rey, on the other hand, is a college prep school holding the conviction a college education is the way to break the poverty cycle. Cristo Rey instills professionalism and an understanding of business by getting students into a work program for students beginning freshmen year. Partnering with banks and businesses like Wintrust, Abbott, AbbVie, and Discover, Cristo Rey students are given jobs to prepare them for work environments. Kendall stated the importance of this when saying:
“As young adults we don’t stick them in a classroom with a bunch of kids their own age and oneadult. We take them and send them to work where they are the only young person, and they are rubbing shoulders with adults.”
For those who believe Cristo Rey only admits pupils who achieve an exemplary score on an entrance exam, quite the contrary. Under Cristo Rey’s unique model, the school emphasizes admission to students from Spanish speaking families with limited financial means. Through a partnership with Chicago’s business community, tuition remains a minimum, with the remaining costs paid through the school’s Corporate Work Study Program. Students enrolled in Cristo Rey receive a college preparatory education and simultaneously learn marketable skills that prepare them for both the rigors of college and a career.
There are ways to circumvent a broken system, but parents must mobilize and form a cohesive base. Moreover, if CPS and the CTU would only look around to see what is working at other schools, they could incorporate some of these ideas within CPS and perhaps start turning the failing system around.
Instead, both the CPS and CTU prefer to indoctrinate their students. While the Classical Consortium Academy is focused on teaching classics from the likes of William Shakespeare and Homer, CPS’ chosen titles include “An Indigenous People’s History of the United States, We Rise: The Earth Guardians Guide to Building a Movement” and “Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet.” Neither of these titles provide a love of country or of God. Instead, both books promote anger and despair.
Another book on CPS’ list is “They Call Me Gűero.” In one chapter, “Border Kid,” the protagonist reflects on his feelings as he and his father wait in line to cross back into the United States:
“Waiting in line at the bridge, though, my smile fades. The border fence stands tall and ugly…Dad sees me staring, puts his hand on my shoulder. ‘Don’t worry, mijo, you’re a border kid, a foot on either bank. You’re ancestors crossed this river a thousand times. No wall, no matter how tall can stop your heritage from flowing forever.’”
This, of course, begs the question why are Gűero and his family living in the U.S. to begin with? It is doubtful, that this is a question that will be raised in a CPS classroom discussion.
Families who are making the decision to find a better school for their kids are doing so because they seek something better, not equitable. And be it charter, magnet, private, or selective-enrollment school, parents are finding pieces missing in public education. Ian Rowe describes four pillars of the school choice movement in the acronym F.R.E.E. — family, religion, education, and entrepreneurship. The basic tenants for students to move out of poverty, the four pillars can also serve as models for others to uplift them from the throes of poverty.
One does not have to live on the North Shore to enjoy these pillars. They can be introduced to CPS schools. What Chicago requires is a mayor with political will and a CTU leadership with the vision and desire to explore alternatives to create successful schools. Likewise, it also demands an ever-vigilant parental movement that demands schools improve or allow their tax credits to be used for school choice without caveats. For once tax dollars are provided, bureaucrats and elected officials believe they have the right to regulate.
We should never lose sight of the fact it is our tax dollars funding public schools. Taxpayers labor to earn a living, only to see bureaucrats squander school funds on sham curriculums or reward themselves with princely pension plans.
If parents want their children to become successful, then it is time for parents to become Goliath.