CTU lawsuit is posturing, frivolous

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The current debate over increasing class sizes in Chicago Public Schools is just another example of the Chicago school district and its teachers posturing and threatening, while students suffer.

The current debate over increasing class sizes in Chicago Public Schools is just another example of the Chicago school district and its teachers posturing and threatening, while students suffer.

The lawsuit filed by former Chicago Teachers Union President Marylyn Stewart was pre-election posturing. The lawsuit makes a big stink about health and safety concerns for students in crowded classrooms. But what Stewart got a whiff of was an attack on teacher’s jobs. We understand that, because her job is/was to protect the jobs and benefits of union members.

The school district is threatening that if teachers do not give back pay raises, financial considerations will cause them to increase class sizes. In other words, if the teachers do not agree to pay concessions, many of them will be fired, which means fewer teachers in the classrooms, which corresponds to more students in the classrooms.

But frankly, if there are 35 children in a Chicago Public Schools classroom, that would be preferable to the current situation, where there may be 35 assigned to the classroom, but on any given day a third of them are not in school. Chicago Vocational High School boasts an attendance rate of 62.7 percent, which means 37.3 percent are not in school. At Dunbar, the attendance rate is 69.1 percent, and at Marshall High School, the attendance rate is 54 percent. If class sizes are increased to 35 from a current average of 28-30, that means only 19 kids are in class at Marshall, hardly bursting at the seams.

That does not even figure in the dropout rate in the schools, which is also very high. Of the children on the class rolls at the beginning of the school year, perhaps 10 percent do not finish that year, corresponding to a drop-out rate (over five years) of nearly 45 percent.

The real problem is that the children in the classrooms – no matter how many of them there are – are not learning. If reducing class sizes will result in higher test scores or functional literacy or even lower the abysmal dropout rates, then, by all means, keep the classes small. But those smaller classes have not produced those results so far.

If you hear ANYONE talking about academic achievement, it is secondary to financial concerns. The district is in financial distress, facing a budget deficit of nearly $600 million, due in large part to chronic state under funding, but also due to some financial decisions made by the district that cause us to scratch our heads.

Both the school board and the teachers should stop their posturing and try to figure out a way to actually serve the students. That means getting more of them to stay in school and getting more of them to do well in school. That also means that rather than square off against each other, holding the education of our children hostage, they ought to be presenting a consolidated front in petitioning state lawmakers and Governor Pat Quinn to adequately fund our schools. It is not about class size. It is about money. 

 Copyright 2010 Chicago Defender.

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