In Defense of Cheaters: I Understand Why They Lied About Their Address to Go to That School

What do you know?  The Chicago Public Schools Inspector General has discovered that families from affluent Chicago neighborhoods and even affluent Chicago suburbs have been using false residency information in order to gain access to some of Chicago’s top high schools.  


I would love to join the chorus of people roundly condemning this behavior, but I can’t shake the words of Jesus, “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.”

As an advocate for parent and family school choice, I don’t see in this story a group of North Side villains deserving of massive crackdown (not to suggest that the IG shouldn’t do his job).  But the bigger story here is one of parents acting in the same rational, loving fashion that parents have acted throughout time.  Regardless of race or economic status, parents want the best for their children.  And they do whatever is within their power to get it for them.

I did not grow up in an affluent neighborhood on the North Side.  In fact, my family was very poor and faced all of challenges that come along with living in the cash-strapped communities of the West and South Sides; including transience.  Like a lot of families living in poverty my family moved around a lot.  Before I graduated from Chicago Public Schools, I had lived in Austin, Garfield Park, South Shore, Humboldt Park, LeClaire Courts and Gage Park.  

But, there was one particular school (which will remain nameless) that my parents felt served us well from an academic and cultural standpoint.  The teachers and staff were committed to the community and to the students.  They taught and served from their hearts.  The school was named for a prominent figure in Black History and the study and celebration of the African American people was a strong emphasis at this school (something that was important to my parents).  My mom and dad also knew that while financial hardship did not allow them to keep us in the same residence (and often not even in the same neighborhood), that attending the same school would provide a much needed sense of stability.

My grandmother owned a house inside of the attendance boundary for that school, so my parents and my grandmother acted: They used Granny’s address to keep us at the school that was going to provide us with the greatest opportunity for success.  Did they act immorally? Even illegally? Perhaps.  Did they act rationally and compassionately?  Absolutely.

You see school choice existed long before it was part of the “corporate school reform agenda.”  School reform just brought school choice above ground.  The concept was not born in a corporate board room or in a conference room at the Broad Foundation.  No, this idea was hatched decades ago in the hearts and minds of parents who would do anything to gain an advantage for their children.  And that’s where the idea still resonates today.

Maybe instead of focusing on a crackdown, we should focus on creating more high-quality school options for EVERY student in Chicago.

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Chris Butler is first a husband and a dad. He has been involved across the spectrum of public engagement activities and has worked with a number of diverse constituencies in urban and suburban communities. He has also been involved in several political campaigns including his service as a youth and young adult coordinator for Barack Obama’s primary bid for U.S. Senate. Chris worked as deputy campaign manager and field director for A+ Illinois where he developed a strong, statewide field operation including over 500 organizations and 50,000 individuals around the state working to bring adequacy and equity to Illinois’ school funding system and as the director of advocacy and outreach at New Schools for Chicago, a leader in school reform in Chicago. Chris is a 2006 graduate of the Ministry Training Institute and holds a degree in civic and political engagement from Northeastern Illinois University.

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