Chicago Teachers Union pushing school model where kids perform poorly

Chicago Teachers Union pushing school model where kids perform poorly

Chicago Teachers Union leadership will use this summer’s contract negotiations with Chicago Public Schools to push for expansion of “sustainable community schools” in the district. The model doesn’t work: students perform worse, absenteeism rises.

Chicago Teachers Union leadership is pushing for more “sustainable community schools,” despite existing community schools producing poorer student results at a higher cost.

The Chicago Board of Education, appointed by former CTU organizer Mayor Brandon Johnson, is also headed in that direction. It passed a resolution to move away from selective enrollment and magnet schools to focus on community schools.

The district already has 20 sustainable community schools, including 12 elementary schools and eight high schools. But most of them have lower proficiency and higher absenteeism rates than the district at large.

Here’s a closer look at why “sustainable community schools” are proving to be a poor model for Chicago students and taxpayers.

The “sustainable community schools” model

Supporters claim sustainable community schools extend the functioning of a school beyond the traditional realm of education. The model integrates additional student services coordinated by the school with outside organizations, such as housing or food assistance, medical or dental care, mental health services, English language or parenting classes.

CTU claims the model promotes improved outcomes, such as decreased absenteeism rates, increased student performance and improved school culture, including “decreases in school discipline referrals, suspensions, and expulsions.” With dwindling enrollment in CPS, CTU markets the expansion of sustainable community schools as an attempt at “fortifying neighborhood schools.”

Data from the Illinois State Board of Education shows CTU’s claims are wrong. The outcomes for students at these costly schools are worse than at other district schools, producing worse academics, greater absenteeism and many disciplinary problems.

The model has failed, with most students performing below the district average

Districtwide, CPS students suffer from poor proficiency rates and high chronic absenteeism. Yet students at the district’s sustainable community schools do even worse. Data from Chicago’s 20 community schools shows poorer proficiency rates, higher chronic absenteeism and high counts of disciplinary incidents compared to the district at large. All this at a higher per-student price point compared to the district average spending on a student.

Sustainable community elementary schools

In the 12 sustainable elementary schools in CPS, only one has a higher reading proficiency rate than the district’s proficiency rate. None of the 12 model elementary schools has a higher math proficiency rate.

Similarly, the absenteeism rate in nine of the 12 sustainable elementary schools is equivalent to or higher than the district-wide absenteeism rate, counter to CTU’s claims the model has decreased absenteeism.

In eight of the 12 sustainable elementary schools, spending per student is higher than the average per-pupil spending districtwide. The highest per-pupil spending comes from Yates Elementary School, where the average per student spending was over $30,000 in the 2022-2023 school year. That is over $12,000 more than the district average.

Sustainable community high schools

The story is similar for the eight high schools using the sustainable model. Every sustainable community high school in CPS has lower reading and math proficiency than the district average for high schools.

Absenteeism is significantly higher at the eight sustainable community high schools – 23 percentage points or more – than the district absenteeism rate. And none of the community high schools have a higher graduation rate than the districtwide rate.

These poorer results come with a much higher price tag. Five of the community high schools spend more per student than the CPS average. At Uplift Community High School, per student spending surpassed $50,000 in the 2022-2023 school year, despite no students reaching proficiency in reading or math.

CTU support for the failed sustainable community schools model

As a result of CTU’s 2016 contract negotiations, CPS committed to creating the first 10 “sustainable community schools” in the district. Then CTU pushed to add 10 more of the schools during its strike in 2019, which forced students to miss 11 school days and resulted in a contract estimated to cost Chicago taxpayers $1.5 billion.

CTU makes it clear the expansion of community schools is part of its agenda. By creating these schools through contract negotiations, CTU is exerting control over the district through the collective bargaining process, binding the district to a failed model.

In the meantime, CTU opposes other models, such as successful selective enrollment schools and charter schools.

This preference for a failed model calls into question CTU’s intent, and whether it has the best interests of students in mind.

CPS is already struggling to fulfill its task to educate the children of Chicago. Instead of pushing to increase sustainable community schools and expanding the duties of Chicago schools, CPS ought to focus on tangible measures to increase the proficiency of its students and prepare them for success in higher education or a career, whichever pathway students choose next.

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