Mayor Rahm Emanuel should read David Sirota’s column in Salon this week, especially this paragraph:
As Joanne Barkan reports in Dissent magazine, data overwhelmingly show that “out-of-school factors” like poverty “count for twice as much as all in-school factors” in student achievement. But because economic inequality enriches wealthy titans like Wal-Mart’s Walton family, and because those same titans fund education policy foundations and buy politicians, the national education debate avoids focusing on economics. Instead, it manufactures a narrative demonizing teachers and promoting testing as a panacea.
Emanuel has been blaming teachers for the state of Chicago’s public school, saying “teachers got two types of pay raises” while “our children got the shaft.”
It’s true that most children in Chicago Public Schools have gotten the short end of the stick, but they didn’t get it from teachers. They got it because they were born to parents too poor to afford private school tuition or homes in the suburbs.
Parents don’t flee urban school districts because of bad teachers. Five of the 10 highest-scoring high schools in Illinois are in Chicago: Northside College Prep, Payton, Whitney Young, Jones College Prep and Lane Tech.
Obviously, those children aren’t getting the shaft. Parents flee urban schools because they don’t want their children’s instructional time disrupted by the behavioral problems of low-income kids. I once had a conversation with a native Chicagoan who seemed extremely glum about the fact that he lived in Hoffman Estates. When I asked why he’d moved there, he said, “Kids go to school.” I pointed out that Chicago has the best schools in the state. He pointed out that it also has the worst: “For every Whitney Young, there’s an Englewood High School.”
Hoffman Estates High School’s test scores rank 234th in the state, but the guy didn’t want to take the chance that his kids would get stuck in a neighborhood school. Because Chicago also has 43 of the 50 lowest-scoring high schools in Illinois. Is it because the teachers are bad? No. It’s because the schools are in poor neighborhoods with no tradition of betterment through education.
Before Barack Obama was elected to the state senate, he was chairman of Chicago’s Annenberg Challenge, which spent $150 million to improve Chicago Public Schools. After the Challenge ended, a UIC study found the money “had little impact on student incomes.” Because the Challenge did nothing to change the demographics of the schools, which drew 85 percent of their students from low-income families.
Obama did nothing to change the demographics either. When he accepted a teaching position at the University of Chicago, he negotiated a contract that guaranteed free tuition for his children at the Lab School. As long as the city’s elites reject the public schools, they’re not going to get better, no matter how long the school day, no many how many after-school programs they offer, no matter how big their budgets.
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