Opinion | Chicago’s public school system should be of interest to presidential candidates
Published: Thursday, September 13, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 13, 2012 21:09
For all intents and purposes, Chicago public schools are failing.
With a 60 percent graduation rate, only 21 percent of 11th-graders college-ready in reading, 19 percent in math, 11 percent in science, and 38 percent in English, the numbers don’t lie.
Chicago’s students simply are not getting the education they need and deserve. But for some reason, the local teachers’ union has decided this failure constitutes a raise, and is bucking any attempts at reforms to improve the schools by striking.
And while inconsistency in administration, which leads to muddled procedures certainly plays a significant role in the failure, the raw numbers show the crisis of public education in this country and in Chicago.
In any other field, most employees of Chicago’s public schools would be thanking their lucky stars they’re still employed with these results — instead of rejecting a 16 percent raise as insufficient.
Yet that’s exactly what the union did when it forced its members to go on strike starting Monday, leaving 350,000 students and countless parents in a highly undesirable position.
Situations like this are the unfortunate reality in the twilight zone of public education.
By striking, Chicago’s teachers have abandoned the very students they’ve pledged to serve.
The union’s argument for a strike is actually somewhat sound. The teachers feel underappreciated, and their professional quality of life is quite low. They’re doing what any group in their position does: clinging hopelessly to the status quo and hoping that they can still make a difference everyday.
Fear of change is natural, but unfortunately for the old institution of public education, change is highly necessary in our brave new world.
Today it’s clear that public education must be about more than petty gripes by a group of workers. It’s about the future of our country.
Plus, for education reform to ever truly take root, teachers, as Geoffrey Canada said when he visited campus last year, have to stop viewing themselves as workers, and instead see themselves as professionals.
Workers need protection from bosses. Professionals need some, but are held to high standards of success.
And even if the union’s ‘beefs’ are somewhat legitimate, taking their ball and going home like they have is not the way to solve the big problems. Though negotiations are ongoing, this is essentially what a strike is.
On another note, this strike seems to be a big opportunity for Mitt Romney and his campaign. Republicans have the rare combination of the political high ground and the benefit of being correct on the education reform issue.
However, the cautious-to-death Romney campaign hasn’t seized on the issue in the way that they should.
And this is sad, not only because Democratic Mayor “never waste a good crisis” Rahm Emanuel will certainly seize the political points gained from this struggle, which is more political malpractice than sad.
But it’s also really sad because any Republican who does not make education reform a high priority is essentially running a straw man campaign destined to make the candidate look like nothing more than a spineless representative for the rich.
You see, if you truly believe in the conservative ideological framework of equal opportunity, not equal outcomes, there could not be a more essential issue than education.
It’s where we all get our start; it’s where the poor can gain the tools to rise up.
It’s easy to forget that fact in the era of tax and spending cuts, but conservatives must never forget about the centrality of quality education to their ideology.
Unfortunately Willard Mitt, in his polling-induced state of constantly being scared silly to say anything interesting, will not talk about fundamental education reform.
It doesn’t fit in with his single-issue campaign that’s setting him up to go down in history with the likes of Thomas Dewey and Alf Landon. It also doesn’t fit in with the federalist-minded wingnuts that are already so skeptical of another big government Republican.
And that’s a shame, because, though it’s a bit crass, Mayor Emanuel is right, politicians never should waste a good crisis. Especially when it puts them in a situation to lead.
And though Republican governors across the country have led on education reform, the party’s standard-bearer has not.
Nothing would make a floundering Mr. Romney look stronger than if he got up and said, with more detail, “I understand that education is a great economic challenge, and I will work to make sure every child is given the tools to succeed.”
Romney should denounce the strike with words as harsh as the one’s he reserved for the Obama administration’s handling of the situation in Libya before our ambassador was killed there (another atrocious mistake by a weak campaign).
He should make a commitment to the American people, as a conservative, to make sure the next generation has the tools to not let America fall behind. It would make Mitt Romney look like a true political leader — something he proves more and more each day he is not.