Corporate education reformers love to harp on the “education gap” between different racial groups as a cause for alarm, focusing on test scores and college graduation rates while blaming teachers for these outcomes. The Chicago Teachers Union, on the other hand, has been arguing that the issues our students and their families face at home and in the community greatly affects their academic outcomes.
Education in the U.S. is subject to huge disparities in opportunity (the “opportunity gap”): some groups of students have incredible experiences while a much larger group is subject to extremely limited in-school and life experiences. These educational opportunities are directly linked to students’ socioeconomic status, and what happens outside schools is more influential than what happens inside. Students’ neighborhoods, family situations, health, level of poverty and race all impact their school experiences and learning. A Just Chicago was published in 2015 as both PDF form and as a standalone website.
Education in the U.S. is subject to huge disparities in opportunity (the “opportunity gap”): some groups of students have incredible experiences while a much larger group is subject to extremely limited in-school and life experiences. These educational opportunities are directly linked to students’ socioeconomic status, and what happens outside schools is more influential than what happens inside.
Despite clear evidence of the influence of socioeconomic factors on academic performance, current CPS policy fails to acknowledge the fundamental link between economic and other resource inputs and educational outcomes.
A significant factor in constraints on Chicago’s students and their families’ economic opportunities is the phenomenon of mass incarceration. Some students have no interaction with the criminal justice system, while others experience the effects of incarceration at very young ages and for extended periods of time.
The educational accountability system expects all children to achieve at the same rate, even though some children come to school after a restful night in a warm bed while others come to school from the backseat of a cold car or from the bed of a shelter.
Chicago’s healthcare disparities by neighborhood or ‘side of town’ provide just one tangible example of how concentrated poverty and extreme segregation affect the quality of life for people living in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Health care is less available and health outcomes are worse in low income neighborhoods of color.
Students need a well-rounded, full curriculum. As part of the fight for a “better day”, not just the mayoral-imposed “longer day”, CTU won art, music and PE teachers for all schools. However, with Student Based Budgeting (SBB), many of those positions have disappeared. With the increased emphasis on standardized testing, tested subjects of mathematics and literacy get the bulk of classroom instructional time, even though research has shown conclusively that art, music, and movement improve students’ reading and math.
Inequitable justice policies, healthcare, housing, education, and job availability is the expected outcome of a system designed to maintain two distinct Chicagos: one for those with access to income and true decision-making opportunities and one for those left to navigate whatever is left over. The divisions present in this system could be mitigated by a series of political decisions. Lessening the opportunity gap and the resulting inequities is a question of political will.