I read your editorial dated November 23rd, entitled, “Education is still a priority.” I represent 36,000 members who agree with that title because we care deeply about quality education for Chicago’s children.
Some of Chicago’s schools are failing and some are under-utilized and over-crowded. Failing schools are “unacceptable” and something needs to be done about them. What many others and I disagree with is the mayor’s thinking his plan will fix the problem.
Have you ever watched a speeding train? It runs its course with no regard for making unscheduled stops along the way. Renaissance 2010 is a speeding train careening out of control to an unknown destination with no plans to stop along the way, no chance for new passengers such as parents, community groups, teachers, and other school staff.
Without our input and cooperation, the public is being “railroaded.” Renaissance 2010 will eliminate local school councils, force the departure of thousands of qualified and experienced teachers and staff, privatize our schools, and not necessarily help our children learn.
You pointed out that the mayor “has called on his managers and local businesses to work with the communities to develop a new plan.” His managers and those in the business community are not the ones teaching or working in the schools. They are not the ones in over-crowded classrooms, sometimes in violent situations, and they are not the front-line professionals. The mayor should be coming to us, the bonafide representatives of the front-line professionals.
Your editorial also stated that schools are for students and unions are for teachers, which I disagree with. Unions are for everyone who wants better working conditions, higher wages, affordable health care and pensions, to name just a few benefits. Unions are for the protection of American workers, whom big businesses would take even greater advantage of without union support. Teachers’ unions are also about improving the quality of education for the students we teach.
Chicago is known as a union town, and I’m proud to be a union leader and a member of the Chicago Federation of Labor representing over 300 unions.
Our union is a partner in Chicagoans United for Education, whose purpose is to bring a strong voice in dealing with the complexities of Renaissance 2010. We have the support of over 20 well-respected and active organizations, and our common goal is improved achievement levels of students.
Most people supporting Renaissance 2010 do not have all the facts and have been sold the plan on the premise of education reform while all it is is another scheme to privatize Chicago schools. These schools lack accountability by eliminating local school councils. Their teachers don’t have to be qualified; they don’t even have to be certified.
Mr. Walker supports the plan because, he stated, “what we have is not working.” That is not correct. Test scores are up, and we are seeing improvements across the board. But nothing will work for Chicago’s children unless their teachers, parents, support staff, and community leaders are included in the process.
Marilyn Stewart is president of the Chicago Teachers Union. This commentary was published by the Chicago Defender on December 9, 2004.