The Policy Shop: Why the Chicago Teachers Union is married to failure

The Policy Shop: Why the Chicago Teachers Union is married to failure

“Imagine community schools
It’s easy if you try
No academics to restrain us
Above us, every other child.

“Imagine all the students
Livin’ out this lie

You may say Stacy Davis Gates is a dreamer, but she’s not the only one. The Chicago Teachers Union will make the district use a flawed school model. Together, Chicago kids will fail as one.

How appropriate that Davis Gates and the CTU chose the Ellen H. Richards Career Academy as the site from which to announce their quest for a new contract that vastly expands “sustainable community schools.” The Richards Academy couldn’t point to a single student proficient in reading or math on the SAT.

“We have committed as an entire union to using our contract to create more sustainable community schools like Richards Academy,” CTU President Davis Gates said April 16 at a press conference.

A call for more schools that produce zero students capable of reading and doing math at grade level? Imagine spreading that dystopia.

There are 20 of the sustainable community schools in the Chicago Public Schools district. They add social, health and other student services into the school structure, which sounds great on the surface but fails in practice. CTU has vowed to get 200 of these schools by the end of the upcoming contract. It appears the union will get what it wants.

“We want this type of school all over the district,” Davis Gates said. “But the most wonderful thing about that is not only does the union want it, the mayor of Chicago wants it.”

That would be Mayor Brandon Johnson, who worked as a CTU organizer and lobbyist, was bankrolled into office with CTU money, filled the school board and city hall with his CTU cronies and seems ready to give his CTU buddies whatever they want in their 142-page litany of demands this summer during negotiations. Those demands range from an extra $51,000 per teacher to turning schools into overnight shelters and adding a fleet of electric school buses. Climate justice, social justice but no academic justice.

Besides being unable to adequately educate a single student, Richards Academy has other not-so-praiseworthy issues. So do the other 19 sustainable community schools.

Nearly 80% of Richards Academy students are chronically absent. Nearly one out of every 10 students drop out of the high school. Less than 70% of students graduate from the high school in four years. Only 21% enroll in post-secondary school within a year of graduating – about one-third the districtwide rate.

These unacceptable results come at a higher cost. Richards Academy costs $24,000 per student, nearly $3,800 more than the average across all other Chicago Public Schools. As a group, CPS’ 20 sustainable community schools spend nearly $2,000 more per student than Chicago’s traditional public schools.

Richards and other sustainable community high schools are underachievers in a school district that already yields poor results. The best of the sustainable community high schools is Thomas Kelly College Preparatory High School, and it doesn’t do much better. Only 10% of 11th grade students at Thomas Kelly could read at grade level and only 7% were proficient in math.

The sustainable community elementary schools don’t work, either. On average, only 13% of their students in third through eighth grade read at grade level. Compare that to the selective enrollment schools CTU has all but killed: 63% of third- through eighth-grade selective enrollment students read at grade level.

There’s another issue with the school model CTU wants to vastly expand: parents don’t want it. Three out of every five seats at Richards Academy are empty. Eighteen of the 20 sustainable community schools are underutilized. Half are less than half full.

When something doesn’t work, do you multiply it by 10?

Not in the rational world. Only in the fantasyland inhabited by Davis Gates and the other CTU dreamers.

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