The Chicago Board of Education recently voted to close 50 schools over the severe opposition of the Chicago Teacher’s Union.
What a shame. They didn’t go far enough.
In a city where nary 60% of Chicago Public Schools students graduate within five-years, where the average high school student scores a meager 17.6 on their ACT, and where only six percent of incoming freshmen will receive a bachelor’s degree, it’s time for a radical reconsideration of how we’re teaching our youth. It’s time for us to put the school system under the lens of deconstructionism.
It’s time that we stop saying, “Well, here’s what we have now”, and start saying, “What do we want? What should our system look like?”
Would the system we want be one where all attempts at reform are choked by the teacher’s union?
(Please note: The Chicago Teacher’s Union disregarded the safety of hundreds of thousands of CPS students by going on strike at the beginning of the 2012-13 school year, demanding significantly more pay in exchange for a longer school day. The district faced a $700 million budget deficit, CPS teachers were paid an average of roughly $75,000/year—nearly twice the national average wage, and Chicago students were in class less than six hours per day—among the least in the country, but the CTU remained obstinate in its stance that students would not learn anything unless it got its way. It’s not just a longer school day; the CTU hotly contests charters, reforms to measure teacher progress, vouchers, and virtually any other serious reform).
Would the system we want be one where our fetishism of public schools leads to a desperate desire to maintain them long after it has become abundantly clear that they have failed on a massive scale?
(Please note: Per economic theory, education is not a public good, and there is little reason beyond simple-minded nostalgia to believe that it can only be provided by the public sector. Indeed, recent studies have shown that, after controlling for various factors, private schools headily outperform public schools in terms of costs, academic achievement, and behavioral skills. On an empirical level, the failure is obvious: in addition to the aggregate statistics above, only 23% of students in Illinois met college readiness benchmarks in 2010. Only 4% of black students hit these benchmarks. Some schools, like Northside Prep and Walter Payton, perform admirably, but these are, by and large, wild outliers.).
Would the system we want be one that segregates students by neighborhood, implicitly creating an educational apartheid in our inner cities? Would the system we want deny parents the opportunity to send children where they think would be best? Would it insist on a culture of unaccountability? Of violence, of truancy?
Of course not. And yet, this is exactly what we have today.
And so. Let’s tear it all down.
Our ideal should be a system where every child gets an equal opportunity to succeed, in any capacity. We should not be so vain as to presume we know what school is best equipped to do this. Let us open the floodgates of innovation and opportunity by ending the government’s tyrannical monopoly on education for the poor. Let us show a commitment to the education of all young men and women by eschewing the norms and models we have today. Let us encourage radical innovation, both inside and outside of the classroom, by embracing technology, tracking, special education vouchers, parental choice, alternative forms of teacher credentialing, recruitment, and assessment, and more. Lets try flipped classrooms and remote teaching, great books programs and monetary incentives for student performance. Rather than forcing all students into the same violent, dismal, hopelessly flawed method of education, let us be free to find the best way to teach each individual student, regardless of ability, socioeconomic background, or skin color.
This is a call to action. Enough dawdling. Put aside silly semantics, baseless notions that reform is racist, and myriad other non-falsifiable claims that serve only to keep hundreds of thousands of students stuck in a cycle of poverty and underperforming schools. Lets get serious. Lets get revolutionary. Lets overthrow these shackles—the ones put on reformers and youth by the entrenched interests, the Karen Lewises and Randi Weingartens of our age—and lets take a principled, committed stand for what we know, from both empirical literature and moral reasoning, to be right.
We’re up against the wall. Reactionaries like Lewis would have you believe that mild tinkering to the status quo will fix a mild problem. They are wrong. There is apartheid in Chicago. There is failure. Every day without reform is another day that Chicago’s youth will never get back, one day closer to their departure from CPS, which many will arrive at strikingly unprepared for the rigors of the real world. Every day is an exercise in tolerating endemic social injustice.
Time is of the essence. In the words of Langston Hughes, “Let’s go, Revolution!”