“Schools Chicago Students Deserve 3.0” brings a groundbreaking 2012 CTU report further into the 21st century, with focus on COVID-19 pandemic recovery and equity for hundreds of neglected Black and Latinx families and school communities.
CHICAGO, Sept. 28, 2022 — The Chicago Teachers Union today celebrates the decade-plus anniversary of its groundbreaking call for equity for Chicago’s public schools, “The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve,” with “Schools Chicago Students Deserve 3.0: From Pandemic to a Real Path Forward.” The new report comes as many Chicago public school communities remain mired in deficiencies caused by decades of prioritizing wealth and deeply segregating neighborhoods and schools, and lays out a plan to address trauma, chronic inequities, and school funding and function in the time of COVID-19.
For years, city leaders in Chicago have professed tolerance and a commitment to equity, but have yet to deliver for hundreds of thousands of public school children and their families. Despite Chicago’s great wealth, its public school district is underfunded by 30 percent, and students go without vital needs that range from access to school nurses and social workers, to school libraries with librarians and wraparound trauma support. The funding shortfall is most acute in largely Black and Brown schools on the South and West sides.
“What parents really want is stability and predictability,” CTU President Stacy Davis Gates said. “The pandemic exposed and amplified that truth, but what the history of schools in Chicago demonstrates is that only some parents receive that privilege.”
“The vast majority of families — families who experience school closures, or schools without librarians and nurses — experience uncertainty, because they don’t have a voice in how their schools are run,” Davis Gates continued. “And the educators working in these schools, who are the real experts on curriculum and instruction, don’t have a voice either… Non-educators make decisions at the expense of our students and their families.”
The CTU, in coalition with families and community organizations, proposes a different path forward — one that recognizes students’ humanity and their need for a better, and better resourced, school day. Every school needs not just a nurse, social worker and librarian, but also art and music educators, robust athletic programs, transformative curriculum, and trauma and restorative justice support.
A more joyful school day includes less standardized testing and fewer punitive measures in an adequately resourced school community that provides the opportunity for exploration, dialogue and curiosity. This is the minimum that wealthy districts offer their students — essential pieces that have long been treated as “optional” and typically absent for hundreds of thousands of children in Chicago. But CPS students deserve the same academics and the same social-emotional resources, and enough educators to provide every child the individual attention and support they need.
When “The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve” was first released in February 2012, Union educators argued for a truly equitable education for Chicago’s public school students based on proven strategies and clear needs. That report laid out the evils of segregated schooling, discriminatory school actions, acute staff shortages, chronic underfunding and more — all propagated by policies that created real harm over the last quarter century of public education in Chicago.
Mayoral control of schools in Chicago, backed by billionaires and corporate elites, has resulted in the largest mass school closure in U.S. history, repeated attacks on staff of color, the destruction of thousands of units of affordable housing (and the predictable loss of student enrollment), and the pursuit of school choice that has resulted in a (also predictable) educator shortage.
Today, Chicago’s public schools face new attacks by many of the same actors with the same privatization platform, the same playbook and the same goal: destroying public education. Some of these charlatans pay lip service to equity, while, at the same time, claiming that learning about our country’s brutal and racist past is divisive, and that recognizing the fundamental humanity of trans students is perverse.
What they don’t talk about, however, is how the real goal of school “choice” is to recreate and reinforce segregated schools and destabilize the profession to depress wages of a workforce that remains nearly 80 percent female.
In the last decade, the Union has fought inequities on many fronts in coalition with grassroots groups, advocacy projects, sister unions and neighborhood organizations. As a result, and through their sacrifice, educators secured a certified school nurse and social worker in every school by 2024, mechanisms to ease overcrowded classrooms and support for the tens of thousands of unhoused students. In Springfield, the Union partnered with parents and community partners to win a new school funding formula and an elected representative school board.
As the burden of the COVID-19 pandemic exposed CPS’s lack of infrastructure, and brought new challenges for hundreds of thousands of students already struggling with under-resourced schools, healing from the pandemic and pre-existing trauma became priorities.
“This report lays out what post-pandemic schooling should look like for students across Chicago and the country, and is done in a way that honors the sacrifices that so many have made during the last three years,” said Pavlyn Jankov, director of the CTU Education Policy Department, and one of the co-authors of SCSD3.
Short-term fixes for “recovery” are not enough to mitigate both the harm of the pandemic and the harm of decades of segregation and disinvestment. Instead, the path forward requires a long-term commitment to students’ real needs, done in a way that recognizes the fundamental humanity of all children — not just those who happen to live in a few select zip codes.
Every school must have:
- appropriate pandemic mitigations, with robust safety protocols — including access to high quality masks, school-based safety committees, improved ventilation and air filtration, comprehensive vaccine access, and COVID testing to identify risks.
- stability instead of short-term staffing due to chronic funding shortfalls.
- a full-time nurse and social worker (at a minimum) available to all students to meet their acute and ongoing physical and mental health needs.
- teacher assistants and appropriate numbers of substitute teachers.
- full-time librarians to support student learning and students’ development of critical thinking skills; full-time technology coordinators to assist students and staff in tech integration and training.
- funding for fine arts, music, drama and/or dance programs to encourage creativity, self-awareness and joy — attributes that cannot be evaluated by standardized tests, but are crucial to student development.
- rich and engaging curricula that recognizes students’ backgrounds and the history of Black Americans, Latinx families, Asian-American and Pacific Islanders and immigrants from across the globe.
- a sustainable community school model built on respecting and listening to stakeholder voices and connecting community resources and community organizations to schools.
- a restorative justice program that centers understanding and healing.
Families throughout the city of Chicago want their schools to work. That means reliable transportation, safe spaces, trusted and sufficient staffing, and resources for fruitful and nurturing learning experiences. For decades, Chicago mayors have kicked the can down the road regarding the district’s ongoing structural deficit, which would fund what every CPS family needs — and more.
“Schools Chicago Students Deserve 3.0” provides a framework on what truly makes a world class school district, and how to work with stakeholders — educators and support staff, parents and their students and families, grassroots groups and community partners — to achieve that goal. By prioritizing those with the greatest need, and providing the necessary revenue, we can give students, families and communities the resources they need to thrive and schools that we all deserve.