One Way sign in Chicago

To Create Real Equity, CPS Needs to End ‘The Chicago Way’

Chicago Public Schools has been talking a lot of talk about equity lately. But recent news tells me they still have a lot to learn before they can walk the walk.

It’s ironic, to say the least, that district leaders are about to ask the Chicago Board of Education to extend their discretionary spending powers just one day after Chalkbeat Chicago and the Better Government Association broke the story of how a mayoral donor profited from a hastily-approved deal for computers. Did the computers fill a need in a pinch? To a degree, yes. But more than a third of them are sitting unused in a warehouse because they are outdated or don’t meet district specifications.

Was this a necessary shortcut in a time of crisis, or just another example of the corrupt Chicago way in action? Given the history of this district, it’s hard to give them a pass, even in a crisis.

It takes a lot of chutzpah for a district to make a case for unrestricted spending authority with that story in print. It takes even more chutzpah to do so when that district is already embroiled in corrective actions over denial of special education services and failure to address sexual assault.

Yes, CPS has started to take steps to correct some of its many egregious harms to students. But it hasn’t made much headway yet. What city and district leaders fail to understand, time and again, is the depth of mistrust the ugly history of injustice in Chicago schools has created among parents and local communities.

CPS Must Restore Public Trust

That depth of mistrust is a factor in the current debate over plans to reopen schools in the new year. No matter what CPS promises to do about keeping schools safe, parents who have been fully exposed to the depths of injustice and inequity in this district don’t trust it with their children under life-and-death conditions. I don’t blame them.

Yesterday, word began to leak out over social media about the numbers of parents expressing some willingness to return their children to their individual schools. Folks I know–teachers and advocates–observed that North Side schools had up to two-thirds of families expressing interest in returning, while South, Southwest and West Side schools saw maximums below one-third. At a Brighton Park school–located in one of the city’s top Covid hotspots–only 13% of parents said they would send their children to the school building, even on a hybrid schedule.

Janice Jackson has said publicly that schools will reopen no matter how few families initially choose to send their children. Yesterday the district released a video showing what in-school learning will look like in a few example schools.

But the word on results of intent-to-return surveys indicates the district must offer more than open buildings to give every family effective education for their children.

As teacher Ashley McCall wrote before the school year started, this moment demands imagination in the service of real equity for students and their families. I hope you’ll join Chicago Unheard on Thursday at 4 for a conversation with Ms. McCall, noted teacher-author Greg Michie, and blogger Ray Salazar.

Banner Photo by Brandi Ibrao on Unsplash.

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Maureen Kelleher

Chicago Unheard blog manager Maureen Kelleher also serves as a senior writer and editor at brightbeam, a nonprofit network of education activists demanding a better education and brighter future for every child. Before joining the brightbeam team, she spent a decade as a reporter, blogger and policy analyst. Her work has been published across the education world, from Education Week to the Center for American Progress. A former high school English teacher, she is also the proud mom of a middle-schooler. Find her on Twitter at @KelleherMaureen.

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