In The News

What’s the Future of Education in Chicago?

This article originally appeared online on Gapers Block.

The Chicago School Board voted yesterday, the 24th of February, to approve the closing of a school, the phasing out of another, and the turn-over of management at 5 others. Despite a large crowd that opposed the cuts and complained of being excluded from the process, it appears that Renaissance 2010, the city’s plan to increase charter schools, and privatize schools, was victorious in the school board.

It was in this context that I attended the The Public Square’s discussion on Chicago charter school’s on February 23 to hear James Thindwa, the former head of Chicago Jobs With Justice and current Civic Engagement Coordinator for the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff speak. The Public Square is a joint project between Chicago Public Radio and the Illinois Humanities Council’s Cafe Society. The discussion was held at the Chicago Public Radio West Side Bureau.

Alice Kim, the director of the Public Square, described the goal of these Cafe Society events was to have strangers engage in discussion about issues and promote engagement with democracy.

James Thindwa kicked off the discussion. He discussed the need to have teachers, who have the day to day immersion in the school system, have their collective wisdom used to shape school policy. He criticized the idea that businessmen should be the only ones making decisions about schools. Thindwa also discussed the narrative that has been sold to convince people to support charter schools, attacking teachers union’s.

Supporters of the charter schools talked about choice for the students and about poor teachers at public schools. However union negotiator Michael McNally struck a chord when he discussed how the the economy failed the students. While charter school supporters often talk about teachers failing students, McNally asked, when students come to school from homeless shelters and are not given the resources they need, what do you expect?

Thindwa reminded the crowd of Mayor Daley’s veto of the 2006 big box living wage bill. Thindwa pointed out that Daley always puts the onus for children’s success on parents, but they he denied a pay raise for those same parents, who are forced to get 2 or 3 jobs to make ends meet, how are those parents supposed to be involved with their child’s school?

I was struck by what one teacher said. When she was discussing tests that students were trained to take with a colleague, and her feeling that they don’t necessarily show whether or not the student will be a success, her fellow teacher said, “we don’t make contracts with the children.” I found it very striking. That corporate contracts can be signed and must be adhered to, while there is no such contract with students.

An audio recording of the event will be available at