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Chicago: Nobody Wins Until (White) Parents Trust Schools

Michelle Rhee is calling the Chicago contract a "missed opportunity," and indeed it was a bungled job in many regards.  However, it's worth remembering that StudentsFirst never liked SB7, the deal underlying this contract, which was agreed to before SF got to Illinois.    And this Sun Times breakdown notes that outside reform groups weren't as influential as they might have expected given their role in SB7. Boo hoo for them.

image from scholasticadministrator.typepad.comCatalyst notes several union wins as well -- a three year contract, a minimum role for student achievement in teacher evaluations. This WSJ article also notes that Emanuel didn't get nearly as much as Denver or DC did in their recent negotiations.  But NCTQ is taking a more balanced view, describing it as "generally moving the district in the right direction" thanks to the longer day and year and the evaluation pieces. Click below for their breakdown.

And as I did in a previous post on my Chicago blog (Stupid Strike), NCTQ also notes that school closings and budget issues may have more to do with whether Chicago improves than the contract provisions.     

This is the issue that folks only now seem to be waking up to -- that Chicago is going to have to continue to downsize unless it makes its schools good enough for white, college educated parents in particular to stay in town and trust their kids to Chicago schools.  Very roughly speaking, only about one of three white Chicago families sends its kids to CPS.

At the end, CTU head Karen Klein  Lewis seemed to be clear about this as well: "We couldn’t solve all the problems of the world with one contract, and that it was time to suspend the strike."

image from www.nctq.org


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Here in San Francisco, parent advocates have done a lot of work convincing middle-class families (who are predominantly Asian and white in our city) to trust our public schools. Some have been known to sneer at this as "gentrification," but it DOES matter.

All children benefit when the public schools aren't ghettoized and disdained as a last resort for the dark-skinned, desperate and downtrodden.

Demographics show that we've had considerable success in San Francisco. And as a veteran of this issue, I can attest that anecdotally the culture has changed. The white middle-class attitude used to hold that it was bad parenting to put your child in an SFUSD school unless it was one of a small handful of trophy schools. Now the white middle-class culture holds that it's elitist and possibly racist not to take our public schools seriously, and to at least make a show of weighing them even for those who do (often, now, a bit sheepishly) go private. And most local officials get at least some questioning about what schools they've sent their own kids to, and get put on the defense a bit if they've gone private.

From afar, it sounds like some of the things Chicago teachers fought for and won are exactly the things white middle-class parents generally want in their children's schools -- including arts, music, P.E. and adequate special education teachers.

White middle-class parents often DON'T want a longer school day, in fact. There's a limit to the length of time normal children can be focused on classroom lessons, and parents who have the resources and child care want their children out of school, engaged in activities or just given time to read, play and dream. That's tougher for low-income parents who have to struggle with child care and unsafe communities, But it's unpleasant to picture low-income children still sitting up straight at their desks chanting their "reform"-prescribed scripted lessons for extended hours while middle-class kids are taking music lessons, doing art projects or lying on the grass staring at the clouds.

The kind of bare-bones, "no excuses" schools that so-called "reformers" want for other people's (dark-skinned) children are not the kind of schools that middle-class parents want. It sounds to me like the Chicago teachers fought for the kind of schools that are at least somewhat more like the so-called "reformers' " children's enriched private schools. That's what's more likely to attract middle-class parents.

You may be naive to think the lack of trust caucasian parents have in CPS schools is due to teachers or the system. Stone, Blaine, Peterson,
and many other CPS schools do just fine in this regard. The trust depends upon the ethnicity of other students attending the school and the neighborhood where the school is located.

I was just coming here to say that! White parents want their kids to go to school with other kids who have roughly equivalent abilities and parents who care about their progress. It's not about trust. They don't leave the city because of the schools, but because of the populations.

If districts want white and Asian parents to leave their kids in city schools, they have to track ruthlessly and draw school lines based on income. And both of those options will get them sued.

Which is why the really interesting work in keeping white/asian parents' trust is happening in the suburbs in places like California, where there are quite a few poor people that whites can't afford to move away from.

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