The Policy Shop: The Chicago Teachers Union’s affinity for failure

The Policy Shop: The Chicago Teachers Union’s affinity for failure

This edition of The Policy Shop is by policy analyst Hannah Schmid.

“We pigs are brainworkers. The whole management and organisation of this farm depend on us. Day and night we are watching over your welfare. It is for your sake that we drink the milk and eat those apples.” – George Orwell, “Animal Farm”

If there were any doubts about the judgment of the Chicago Teachers Union and its leadership, then take a look at what they view as the idyllic model for schools.

“Sustainable community schools” is their antidote to the failing Chicago Public Schools system. And true to CTU’s motto, they “work less, cost more.”

Academics? Below the districtwide scores.

Attendance? Below the district averages.

Discipline? No better than the district.

Cost? Above the district benchmark.

Chicago Teachers Union leadership is pushing for more, even though existing community schools produce poorer student results at a higher cost.

The district already has 20 sustainable community schools, including 12 elementary schools and eight high schools. Sustainable community schools integrate 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.”

But look at the data from the Illinois State Board of Education. It shows CTU’s claims are wrong on every point. The outcomes for students at these costly schools are worse than at other district schools, producing worse academics, greater absenteeism and just as many disciplinary problems.

The community school model is bad for elementary students, but it is worse for high schools. 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 was nearly $53,000 in the 2022-2023 school year, despite no students reaching proficiency in reading or math.

If CPS had given $53,000 to the parents, the parents could have chosen a world-class education for their student rather than an education that couldn’t produce a single student reading or adding at grade level. If the student were headed to college, $53,000 would be enough for Loyola or DePaul.

So a thinking person would say, “We should abandon this failing educational experiment.” Not the CTU bosses, who are poised to force CPS during summer contract negotiations to expand community schools. Not that CPS needs much forcing with the Chicago Board of Education appointed by former CTU organizer Mayor Brandon Johnson.

The board already passed a resolution to move away from selective enrollment and magnet schools – some of the highest achieving schools in the district – to focus on community schools.

As a result of CTU’s 2016 contract negotiations, CPS committed to creating the first 10 “sustainable community schools.” 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. It also threatened and cajoled state lawmakers into killing the one option low-income families had to attend private schools: the Invest in Kids program.

Notably, CTU President Stacy Davis Gates worked against the private school scholarships as she was sending her son to a private school. She makes over $289,000 a year, so she can afford school choice.

Milk and apples for brainwork, you know.

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