When Chicago School CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett released her grand plan for the next five years Monday afternoon, it should have been cause for hope.
After all, hope is often the only commodity the city’s cash-starved schools have in almost limitless supply.
Instead, the city’s teachers blasted Bennett for not including them in the planning, calling her education blueprint a plan which will "foster mistrust, alienation and lowered expectations."
In a system still reeling from a contentious strike and the bruising battle over the closing of dozens of schools, the education plan is an ambitious one. Bennett said she intends to make art available at every grade level and said physical education will be expanded in the city’s high schools from two to four years.
The plan calls for adherence to the Common Core State Standards, a national benchmark for math and literacy skills. And the schools chief said she will implement report cards for parents, which give an annual assessment of performance for schools, principals, and teachers.
"Our vision is that we intend for every student in every neighborhood, to be engaged in a rigorous, well rounded instructional program," Bennett told an audience at Westinghouse College Prep. "We expect that every student will graduate, prepared for a career, and prepared for life."
But the teachers were notably absent in the audience. And in a blistering statement, union chief Karen Lewis called the blueprint a plan "done in a silo of CPS without any stakeholders at the table."
"Our school communities do not lack inspiration, they lack revenue," Lewis said. "It doesn’t matter what new initiatives CPS concocts from year to year if it has no way to appropriately fund them."
Lewis called it "amazing, that CPS’s first impulse, no matter who heads it, is towards an autocratic, top-down approach, that people who actually work with kids are expected to implement, without the appropriate resources or tools."
Bennett’s plan called for five strategic "pillars." High standards with a rigorous curriculum; systems of support that meet all student needs; engaged and empowered families and communities; committed and effective teachers, leaders, and staff; and sound fiscal, operational, and accountability systems.”
"We will assess our teachers and our principals, and everyone in the system with a single, rigorous, accountability framework," Bennett said. "Every Chicagoan has a stake in the success."
While boasting that the city’s school attendance rate had just hit nearly 93 percent, Bennett lamented the fact that truancy in Chicago’s pre-school programs tops 25 percent.
"That’s unacceptable," she said. "We cannot educate students who are not present. If they are not in school, we need to understand why not."
But union leaders called the plan "old wine in a new bottle."
"We’re always being told there’s some kind of new initiative," said CTU vice-president Jesse Sharkey. "There’s some new exciting proposal or plan that’s going to move our schools onto the next thing. But the people in the classrooms have to actually deal with the students who are in front of us, and the plans that we have already started, to try and see those through, before we can go onto the next thing."