Building Better Schools: On a shoestring and a lot of spin
School budgets are out and most schools we have heard from did not get the big bump in funding that CPS reported they would receive. It is great that our school day is going to be longer than the current 5hr45 minutes. In fact as we’ve said all along, most parents want an extension of time for their kids, but it is very sad for many of us that our kids’ schools will not even be able to pick up a half-time position with the funding we received. In the fall, most of us will still have schools without many basic programs.
All week the mayor has been asking the people of Chicago to hold him accountable, and parents of CPS students want to do that. Many of our schools, especially level 3 schools, lost positions due to CPS projecting severe under-enrollment – up to 300 students with a loss of 10 teachers in some cases. Can the mayor account for that? Most high schools lost many positions this year. Can he account for that? School budgets are all over the map and most people do not want to go on record with the cuts, because in the process schools will have to go through of begging CPS to return some of the positions, they do not want to be penalized for going public with information, especially if they are "Level 3" schools, which could easily be on next year's school closing list.
We would like CPS to publish information on how many positions were cut due to projected under-enrollment. As CPS just put out information that they plan to open 60 charter schools in the next five years, (Tribune story), it starts to make sense that they would cut so many positions from their Level 3 schools. What I once thought was hyperbole - that CPS would intentionally starve neighborhood schools of resources in an effort to expedite their closing – now seems pretty real, and quite disheartening.
It is unclear why we are opening 60 new charter schools, anyway. Did CPS and the mayor not see this report last December in the Sun-Times that actually looked at the data? “Chicago Charter Schools Produce Wildly Uneven Results:” (Sun-Times story). Charter schools are no different than traditional schools – almost all charter operators have campuses that are performing below the CPS average. So why expand them at such a rapid pace? Why not tout the excellent inquiry-based literacy curriculum developed at some of our schools, like Burley elementary, where my son attends as just one example. Why not make it a point to share that kind of curriculum infused with some level of community control and content, with 60 schools, so that all kids have the opportunity to become critical thinkers and engaged learners? Perhaps because it is too difficult and is not a silver bullet-style approach that we are seeing with this administration. Move fast, try everything, hope something works.
The one positive that we are happy about is that kids will have recess restored after thirty years without at CPS. This is good news. Other than that, thousands of students will still have no music, no art, insufficient language programs, huge class sizes, inadequate PE, poor special education services, not great literacy curricula, and many still without full-day Kindergarten.
While CPS moved buckets of money around and created the “College Ready Fund”, they also cut many lines in school budgets and short-staffed positions at many schools.
I think that parents would love to take the mayor up on his offer and hold him accountable, but that would mean having an honest conversation with the mayor and School District 299. Tell us the truth – we don’t have enough money to give a proper quality education to all students in Chicago. We all know it’s true and we’ve found ourselves alone in Springfield year after year advocating for increased funding for children’s education when no one else is there. Show some leadership and change the culture at CPS. Bring parents and teachers in to help solve the problems together instead of the spin and rhetoric we receive. The biggest problem at CPS is total distrust of their stakeholders. We hope year two is filled with more honesty – so that we can truly embark upon fulfilling the quality school day our children deserve.