Thursday, September 04, 2008

The CPS boycott

I've been hearing about this over the summer. Rev. James Meeks (also a state senator representing the Roseland/Pullman neighborhood on the far south side of Chicago) has been organizing a trip to Wilmette and Northfield, IL to get inner city school kids enrolled in school. The idea of course is to bring attention to the fact that in the New Trier school district more money is spend per pupil than in Chicago.

What accounts for that?

Well in Illinois for the most part if the state isn't offering much in the form of grants to a local school district then one way to fund the schools are thru property taxes. Willmette is on the north shore region of the Chicago area. The north shore is considered very wealthy and at that can certainly afford to spend more per pupil and no doubt parents who live in the New Trier district doesn't have a big axe to grind about it.

That being said if you want to look strictly at how much money a school district recieves per-pupil then how come Chicago doesn't measure up? Chicago is much larger than Wilmette/Northfield and perhaps has more expensive real estate with skyscrapers worth millions. Indeed, I read somewhere that the Sears Tower is worth almost a billion dollars. Yet, CPS students aren't worth as much.

Why is that?

Good question but there are going to be a lot of answers to that. It's easy for me to spout off some easy answers. For instance maybe Chicagoans aren't as serious about educating their children and what that entails. Perhaps they don't realize that public schools need up to date computers, school books, even recruiting and retaining good great excellent teachers. Also if we want to keep CPS students off the streets after school it would be nice to create some activities that might capture their interest.

For instance watching a report on WBBM-TV about the boycott a parent mentioned that at his local high school Fenger, there was no water in the swimming pool. Yet, at New Trier, students there can take scuba diving lessons. Awesome is it not? Why shouldn't CPS students have that same priviledge?

When I went to high school in the public schools, I saw some old yearbooks going back as far as 1971. It was cool to see some of the teachers I had at the time in their younger years. It was also cool to see that there were so many different activities a student could be involved in.

I wasn't trying to be a baseball, football, or basketball player when I was in high school. In fact these days I consider myself more of a baseball fan and our school was near championship caliber in baseball in my time there. Still it would have been nice if there had been a swimming team as there one was at my high school or a wrestling team. For us the pickings were slim as far as sports goes.

It would have also been nice if our school had an actual marching band. I would have enrolled in a course just to learn to play an instrument even if it were the drums. Of course when I was in school the band well we largely didn't know who they were unless they were practicing an instrument before class or saw them in a yearbook. At that there was a very small group. Indeed what was king was the school choir, so I certainly can't say our school was suffering musically.

In any case, what happened in the ensuing years that some of these activities were cut out? Was it an issue of money? Were the students no longer signing up for these activities? What happened?

Another question about school funding in Chicago is to ask where is the money that Chicago does get, thru property taxes or state/federal grants, going? Does most of that money go instead to adminstration instead of the classroom?

You know I was discussing this issue of CPS with my mother. I'm sure people are discussing this all the time, but could the fact that the schools aren't producing the value for however much is spent per-pupil is because CPS is a large unweidly system. Think about it over 600 schools on the elementary and secondary level and over 400,000 students. Although to be sure the system isn't the largest in the nation but it's right behind New York and Los Angeles' school systems.

You know this could lead to another issue. Should CPS be totally centralized from Adams & Clark Street? Shouldn't the individual schools be able to chart their own course as far as what they offer to their specific communities if not the rest of the city?

The issue almost brings to mind the LSCs. In the past year or so attempts have been made to strip LSCs of their authority over their schools and allow the Chicago Board of Education more authority over the individual schools. CPS may be touted at the largest decentralized system in the nation, however, this doesn't make for a solution to the fact that the CPS isn't at this moment noted for quality results.

Here's my two cents worth.

I don't think the issue with education is a funding issue. In following this boycott story over at The Sixth on Tuesday there were plenty of blurbs. One story suggested that Naperville spent less per-pupil than Chicago and they have quality results. The issue need not be about money. Money can't hurt for sure but it's not the only issue in my opinion.

It's never one thing of course, but before we just throw money at a problem let's consider quality. What might the city of Chicago get back on it's investment of about $10K per-pupil in the schools? Let's figure that out.

Should we be concerned that our kids are ready for the world? That is they can hold a job provided with the skills they would need to be productive. Should they be ready for college? Should they just know some basic skills that we would take for granted such as the three "Rs": reading, writing, and arithmetic? What should that return be and if the CPS isn't producing that return should we honestly increase the investment?

Perhaps this is what the CPS boycott should be about. We should be discussing various issues that will affect CPS students and their parents. In addition to that we should certainly consider the standard of living of this city in doing so.

Also in what ways can we turn our schools into New Triers? Not so much that they have to offer the same programs, activities or curricula. Still our schools can be places where students can learn the three "Rs" in addition to teaching our students some scuba diving.

Fact is if education should be a priority let's come up with some ideas on making CPS better. It's OK to focus on funding because obviously we have to figure that one out depending on what is expected for the schools to offer. Let's also focus on quality because even if the schools spend only, to throw a random low number, say $5K per-pupil and yet producing students ready for college and the workforce then it would still be a worthwhile investment. Would it not?

CPS's problems: Monopoly and Teacher's Unions - The Sixth Ward
How does Chicago school funding stack up? - The Sixth Ward
Does “boycott” equal “busing?” - Chicago Argus

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