Chicago parents and teachers borrowed tactics from the Occupy movement to express their determination to fight proposed school closures and their replacement with charter schools that limit enrollment and destabilize low-income minority neighborhoods. Before the Christmas break, a group of parents from the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization, teachers from the Chicago Teachers Union, and Occupy activists used the mic check technique to occupy a meeting of the Chicago School Board.
The Chicago Sun Times reported that as the Chicago School Board CEO began to make a presentation on a new $660 million construction plan, Adourthus McDowell, a parent and member of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization, stood up and began to read from a prepared text.
“We see through the sound bites,” McDowell said. “You have betrayed the public trust. You have failed Chicago’s children.” As he spoke, the audience echoed each sentence.
McDowell said that closing neighborhood schools and replacing them with charter schools that limit their enrollment to a select few had destabilized low-income and minority communities and made the simple act of walking to school much more dangerous for children who could no longer attend their neighborhood schools.
“Children have died, literally and spiritually as a result of your policies.” McDowell said and the audience echoed loudly.
As McDowell’s mic check speech continued, the board adjourned to a closed meeting, but the audience remained and continued to give testimony about their displeasure with the board’s policy of addressing the educational needs of their children with a band-aid approach that relies on replacing neighborhood schools with privately operated charter schools.
The takeover of the school board meeting came about two weeks after the State of Illinois released data showing that companies operating charter schools in Chicago had by and large produced no better results than the schools they replaced.
According to the data, only one of nine charter school companies operating in Chicago had produced better results than the district wide average for all Chicago public schools. The companies operate schools on multiple campuses.
Some companies produced worse results than the district wide average. The percentage of students that passed state standardized tests at schools operated by Aspira and North Lawndale was lower than the district wide average.
The overall percentage of students passing the tests at schools operated by six other companies was comparable to the district wide average; however, the majority of schools operated by four of these companies had results below the district wide average.
Only one of the education chains, Noble Street, produced results that were better than the district wide average.
Despite the lack of success at addressing the needs of students living in low-income neighborhoods, the Chicago School Board and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel remain committed to expanding charter schools.
Parents and teachers belonging to the Chicago Teachers Union also remain committed to fighting for a real solution to improving education in Chicago.
A week after the Chicago School Board was occupied, CTU and parents held a rally to protest the proposed opening of a charter school operated by UNO in a neighborhood served by Sayre Elementary. The rationale for opening the charter school is that it will relieve overcrowding at Sayre.
“Our community does not need another school,” said Letty Zavala whose children attend Sayre. “They told us UNO is coming to relieve overcrowding. That’s simply not true. The four schools closest to the proposed UNO site actually have space for 223 more students, according to (the) Chicago Public School’s formula for optimal utilization.”
“For every student that leaves our community schools, educational dollars will go to the new UNO school,” said Sayre Local School Council Chair Jennifer O’Connor. “This unfair competition will hurt the existing schools that serve the community. “This will cause our neighborhood schools to suffer.”
While Chicago has been pouring millions of dollars into charter schools with questionable results, a new study from Stanford University shows that the biggest obstacle to education achievement is poverty and that schools in low-income neighborhoods do not receive adequate funding to address the needs of their students.
What’s needed according to David Sirota writing in Salon.com is “a national commitment to combating poverty and more funds spent on schools in the poorest areas than on schools in the richest areas.”