It’s time we get over ourselves and our fear and face facts. Confront them even. Not only is it the right thing to do, it’s the only way to fix things and improve for the future. It’s the only way to learn and grow.
There’s been a spurt of school news recently, some but not all of it focused on Chicago Public Schools. It’s clear from a couple of the stories that some of us still are trying to hide and avoid reality. Whether the stories are about Chicago Public Schools or education statewide, the lessons therein can teach us all.
Allow me to explain.
One schools story was the next installment of the Chicago Tribune’s “Broken Bonds” series. In the nuttiest of shells, the Tribune’s investigation found that despite school officials getting advance warning 10 years ago that there would be big enrollment drops coming in several neighborhoods, CPS officials spent $1.5 billion on schools that now are at 60 percent capacity. Actually, they took out loans and piled up debt to pay for construction while disregarding what the demographic forecasts were teaching. CPS also spent $100 million on improvements at school buildings that were closed this year and long after the enrollment drops were projected. Helloooo? Left hand, have you met right hand?
I’m pretty sure I’d read previously, around the time the school closing list was about to be released, that district managers were spending money on schools they knew were about to be closed.
That’s just maddening.
Another story by the Chicago Tribune looks at a new survey of 740,000 students statewide in grades six through 12 and of 100,000 teachers statewide. The questions and answers were so “provocative,” the paper says, that the state did not release a full analysis to the taxpayers who funded it after school officials complained up a storm about the survey and how it would portray them and their schools.
Of what are we so afraid?
- Nearly half of those surveyed said they are never or are rarely asked challenging questions in their core subjects.
- 42 percent said they never or only rarely are giving tough test questions.
- 18,200 teachers said they do not believe their principals are effective.
- 13,000 teachers said they would not recommend their schools to a parent.
Is it possible the survey was set up poorly and produced unreliable results from teens who are, um, hormonal to start? Sure. Can we still learn something from running the numbers and sharing results? Absolutely.
Epic, epic fail. The results themselves are an indication of failure. The fact that state officials were cowed into not calculating and releasing the results we all must address is yet another failure.
The third schools story involves the notion some people hold in Chicago that the school board should be elected and, they would argue, accountable to the taxpayers funding the schools. Of course, voters sharing their views, indicating in an advisory-only ballot question that they want an elected school board, could apparently threaten Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s power and embarrass him.
So what did the go-along Chicago City Council do? They pulled one out of that old bag of undemocratic tricks. They stuffed the ballot with the maximum of three other advisory questions before the people could get organized to get the elected school board question on the ballot.
I’ve seen that trick used before and I’ll call it what it is: corrupt.
So, to sum, we’re not facing facts about demographics and using them to spend tax dollars smartly. We’re not being transparent and sharing relevant survey results we’ve paid for because we fear it might reflect poorly on us. And we’re blatantly banning citizens from having their say because we fear the message and the pressure it could put on us.
Of what are we so afraid? Learning, apparently.
How are our teens doing? Illinois ACT scores are down. Check it out. Fed up with politicians driving up bills and debt? It’s time they quit digging deeper in that hole. Do you believe every child deserves an excellent education? That their zip code shouldn’t determine whether they get good schooling? Then join us and tell the politicians here!