A crowded event with a participant wearing a shirt emblazoned “Fighting for the Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve”

In 2012, the Chicago Teachers Union issued the groundbreaking report, The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve. The report provided a counter-narrative to ideas popular among corporate education reformers—or “de-formers,” as some like to say. The problem, as shown by decades of educational research, was not the teachers. The problems in education were the result of too-large class sizes, limited curricula, inadequate facilities, not enough support personnel and lack of adequate funding. As further explained in the Union’s A Just Chicago report, issues in education are deeply connected to housing, health care, justice and jobs.

The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve played a major role in the CTU strike of 2012. Yes, teachers, clinicians and paraprofessionals needed to be paid fairly and have decent working conditions. Also, schools needed to change in ways that better served our students. For example, the CTU forced Chicago Public Schools to hire 512 additional art, music and physical education teachers, giving more students access to a well-rounded curriculum. The Union also won class size limits for special education classes.

The 2015-2019 contract included more gains for both school workers and students. Because of the CTU’s fight, and the threat to strike again, 20 schools will have the opportunity to use the research-based practices described in The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve. These 20 Sustainable Community Schools are just a start, but the CTU will continue to fight for more schools to have the additional resources they need to properly serve students.

The Union’s political work resulted in a budgetary win for Chicago schools. In addition to giving CPS more money, the Illinois General Assembly passed a new funding formula. The formula details the way state funding should be allocated to schools—based on student need—and looks remarkably similar to the proposals made in The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve. CPS stubbornly clings to its student-based budgeting formula, which has resulted in draconian cuts to schools that need funding the most.

Schools Chicago Students Deserve 2018 looks at the progress the CTU, parents, students and community groups have made since 2012, and analyzes what remains for which they have to fight. For example, the number of Black teachers continues to fall, but the CTU continues to fight for students’ need to be taught by an integrated staff. Regular class sizes have not budged, although K-2 classes with more than 32 students now have a teacher assistant assigned to them. Many schools are still filthy due to the district’s disastrous outsourcing of custodial work to Aramark and Sodexo, as rank-and-file members and parents forced CPS to conduct unannounced inspections and clean up some of the worst messes.

School closings in Black neighborhoods and the subsequent displacement of both teachers and students are directly related to city policies that drive out working class Black families. The lack of jobs paying living wages, safe neighborhoods and affordable housing—which reached a crisis level when housing projects were torn down and subsidized housing was not replaced—have led to an exodus which has lowered the number of students as well as the number of school staff. From 2011 to 2017, CPS lost 30,525 African-American students, accounting for much of the decrease in the CPS student population as a whole. Affordable housing is intricately connected to the CTU’s fight for the schools our students deserve.

CPS attacks on special education services from 2015 to 2017 were among the most egregious, when then-CPS CEO Forrest Claypool transferred millions of dollars into the hands of his cronies at the expense of Chicago’s highly vulnerable students. CTU educators waged a protracted struggle against the district’s many abuses, and as a result, rolled back some of its worst policies. The struggle forced CPS to add 65 new teachers, 94 case managers and 160 social workers to serve the needs of special education students. The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) also imposed a monitor for three years to ensure CPS complies with special education laws. This is not enough, but it is a start. The CTU will remain vigilant in its efforts to fight for the needs of students—especially those most in need and most vulnerable to the whims of greedy profiteers.

As the 2018-19 school year begins, the CTU remains committed to doing whatever is necessary to organize and fight for the schools our students deserve. Among our priorities are: improved pay and health benefits (especially for horribly underpaid PSRPs), lower staffing ratios, more Sustainable Community Schools and advocacy for affordable housing. Unlike CPS, the Union advocates for research-based policies that are known to positively impact our students’ education. Schools Chicago Students Deserve 2018 provides the scaffolding for that fight.

The ‘Schools Chicago Students Deserve 2018’ report will be released in October.

This article appears in the September 2018 issue of the Chicago Union Teacher.