Almost 25% of elementary students are trapped in overcrowded classes, and 35% of high school students attend at least one overcrowded class.
CHICAGO, October 9, 2019—No matter where you live in the City, Chicagoans agree: students deserve a high-quality, world-class public education—what the teachers, social workers, school nurses, teacher assistants, and school-related staff of the Chicago Teachers Union are trying to achieve. Chicagoans can’t do it alone. They need the support of the Mayor, her hand-picked Board of Education and her CPS leadership.
On Wednesday, teachers, students, teaching assistants and special education classroom assistants who serve diverse learners held a press conference on October 9 at Simeon High School, where some classes top 40 students, to raise awareness about the issue.
The situation in CPS classrooms is dire. According to preliminary 20th day classroom enrollment numbers, close to 25% of elementary students are being taught in classrooms that bust CPS’ own agreed-upon—but unenforced—classroom limits. 35% of high school students attend at least one overcrowded classroom under CPS’ own limits in the current CTU contract—and some high schools like Simeon are so overcrowded students attend many overcrowded classes. The CTU is asking for both smaller classes and enforceable limits—enforcement that doesn’t exist for the vast majority of CPS students.
Chicago has among the highest average class sizes in the state—the reason the State’s General Assembly is allocating an additional $1 billion a year to the City of Chicago explicitly to provide equity to students—including smaller class sizes.
“Springfield gets it,” says Ashe Elementary school teacher Robin Blake Boose. “They understand that all students deserve lower class sizes, well-resourced classrooms, and wraparound services. That’s why they passed a new funding formula that sends additional funds to our city to meet those needs.”
Unfortunately, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot doesn’t appear to get it. While the city’s classrooms burst at the seams and school buildings fall into disrepair, Lightfoot wants to preserve the status quo at City Hall. That includes accommodating corporate interests and wealthy developers who benefit from public funds, while schools lack the supports to address overcrowding. If Lightfoot truly cares about Chicago’s public school students, she should agree to smaller class sizes for all Chicago students—and put those promises in writing in an enforceable contract.
“We know that smaller class sizes are critical to supporting strong student learning,” says CTU President Jesse Sharkey, whose two sons attend Chicago public schools. We also know that our working conditions are our students’ learning condition. That’s why we’ve laid out critical guiding principles on class size in our contract proposals.”
Teachers and support staff are asking for the following research-driven class sizes in their contract proposals:
- Teachers know that early-childhood students thrive best in classrooms with no more than 18 students—and students in all grades benefit from smaller classes.
- Kindergarteners learn best in a learning environment with no more than 20 students.
- For elementary schools, students will learn the best in classrooms with no more than 24 students.
- For older students, from 6th grade through their senior year in high school, teachers are holding firm at the bargaining table that students learn, thrive, and grow best in classrooms with no more than 28 students.
“The more students an educator is responsible for, the harder it is to teach—and the harder it is to provide students with the individual attention they need and deserve,” says Ogden High School teacher Lillian Kass. “You can’t argue with that reality—and teaching becomes much more difficult when teachers are forced to teach split-grade classes, with twice the number of lesson plans and double the curriculum needs. This should be a no-brainer for CPS. They have the money to do better by our students. But they need to put those funds in our classrooms.”
- Average students assigned to the smallest classes have reading scores of nearly 8 percent higher than students in medium-sized classes. The smaller-class students, on average, achieved 9 percent higher math scores.
- Students in smaller classes who complete high school are more likely to take college-entrance exams than students assigned to medium or large classes.
- The impacts are even more significant for black, brown, and poor students.
Instead, as the City has raked in a record TIF windfall this year, CPS has left more than half of the dollars it could have claimed—more than a hundred million dollars—instead on the table for the mayor to appropriate to City budget needs. Had those tax dollars not been trapped in TIF funds, public schools would have seen an infusion this year of over $200 million in additional funds.
“The mayor’s office is happy to sign enforceable contracts with deep-pocketed, politically connected developers like Sterling Bay to build a new neighborhood for the wealthy in ‘blighted’ Lincoln Park on the public dime,” says CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates, whose three children attend Chicago public schools. “Yet the mayor who controls our school district refuses to do the same for our students and their educators. That’s not just hypocritical. That’s wrong.”
CTU members are clear: CPS continues to fail today to provide our students with the equity and educational justice they deserve.
“That political strategy is a violation of our students’ civil rights, an attack on Chicago’s working class families, and an assault on the common good,” says Gates.
The Union will continue to bargain for that common good—for a school district that addresses and funds the needs of our students. And we’re clear that it’s time for the mayor, her CPS executives and her hand-picked board of education to put their promises in writing in an enforceable contract—the only way we have to hold them accountable and secure the resources and supports our students need and deserve. Anything less is nothing short of maintaining the status quo—and that’s not good enough for our students.