Education is Still a Priority

Published November 23, 2004

Many parents, students, community leaders, and spokespersons have recently participated in a real partisan debate about who should run the country. There is another equally important debate just beginning and it’s about Chicago’s children’s education and their future as young students, being adequately equipped to compete and graduate.

Within the tradition of black Americans, the true value of education, and how individual freedom depends on it has always been understood. Dr. Martin Luther King said, “The discrimination of the future will not be based on race, but on education. Those without education will find no place in our highly sophisticated, technical society.” One educator wrote, “We are rapidly becoming a two-tiered society where the well-educated can look to a more prosperous, healthier, joyful, and interesting future for themselves and their children, while the students who are forced to attend failing schools can anticipate hopelessness, despair, and poverty.”

If the failing Chicago public schools were a sports team owned by Mayor Richard Daley, he would be looking for process changes and innovations. In this case, the mayor has called on his managers and local businesses to work with the communities to develop a new plan because failing schools are unacceptable. It was “out of the box” straight talk that I heard from Mayor Daley when he presented his recent budget message to the Defender’s editorial board. The mayor took over the schools from the state ten years ago, thus, he is part owner along with the state for having final responsibility for students’ education. The mayor’s new education plan, which you may have already heard about, is described as “Renaissance 2010,” a six-year plan to create 100 new schools.

Since 2004 marks the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, it is appropriate and timely for the mayor to offer innovative, but practical solutions to regenerate an outdated system, and have students reading and writing at grade level. Well, the mayor did just that in his plan as outlined in “Renaissance 2010.” The new schools will help address the issues of low performance, over-crowding, lack of high school options, and the under-utilization of CPS buildings.

The 100 schools will split. Roughly, 33 schools will be charter schools, 33 will be contract schools, and 33 will be small schools run by Chicago Public Schools.

However the 2010 idea has not been met with enthusiasm by all involved with the Chicago public system and many parents are now confused by 2010. First of all, there are those who do not support this plan – namely the Teachers Union and community groups they are working with. Let me be very clear; schools are for students and unions are for teachers. The mayor said, “If they don’t like the plan fine, fine. But I expect and want more for these kids. When I go in a school and I’m told that nine percent of the kids are reading at their grade level, that means that 91 percent aren’t. And no one’s upset! That’s why I’m going outside the box on this.” He further said, “Democrats stand for the status quo on education. I don’t.”

I attended a recent rally sponsored by the Chicago Teachers’ Union, the Chicagoans United for Education, and the Chicago Million Workers March Committee. One of the leaflets handed out stated, “2010: The Year We Lose Contracts.” One group is about improving learning for students and the other is about having a contract. I hope you decide which is the moral thing to do for the future of the kids.

I support “Renaissance 2010” because what we have is not working and I have read the booklet “Left Behind – Student Achievement in Chicago’s Public Schools” prepared by a local education committee and distributed by the Civic Committee of Chicago. A booklet all should read.

Lee Walker ([email protected]) is president of the New Coalition for Economic and Social Change. He is also a columnist and member of the editorial board for the Chicago Defender.