I want you to picture a better future for this country. Just sit there for a second and see the United States 5, 10, 25, and 50 years from now. What does it look like?
Are the trees manicured? Do people stop politely to talk to their neighbors to discuss the issues of the day? Are people smiling? Do they seem happy? Is the air clear? Are the streets free of litter and vagabonds?
What type of children are in this picture? Are they behaved or unruly? Do they make a ton of bricks seem smart?
History is full of lessons. Unfortunately, in America today we do not teach students all these lessons. It is wrong and something we need to correct if we want to have the better future discussed above.
Living in Chicago, we see an extreme example of attempts to divert funding from some children to give it to other children. My question is this? Why not educate all the children?
To me, this is the reason where I see a failing Chicago Public School system.
3 Reasons CPS does not work
Reason 1: Declining Student Population: Increasing School Population
Over the past 15 years, the CPS student population went from 438,539 students to 371,382. That is a 16% decrease in the student population.
In other words, as the student population decreased by 16%, CPS increased the number of schools by 18%.
This is a 34% shift in the ratio between school spending per child. It is a classic supply and demand problem that asks the question why exactly is the CPS opening up more charter schools?
Reason 2: Special Education Red Tape
Even more disturbing are the cuts in special needs funding as CPS adds more schools.
Charter schools do not have to support special education students. Because they are quasi-private organizations they do not have the same level of requirements as public schools.
However, with less money going to public schools and more money spread out across more schools special needs students paid dearly for this transition.
CPS added new layers of bureaucracy, so fewer parents could access the smaller pool of money set aside for special needs students.
This worsens the problem because now students who need extra help are in the classrooms undiagnosed with other children. Parents who do not know how to navigate this system struggle to find alternatives for their children.
Blocking a subset of children from the education they need is disruptive and reckless.
Reason 3: Lack of Parent Involvement
This item is a doozy because it cuts at a lot of socio-economic reasons beyond schools and often parents control.
For example, does a single working parent raising a child expected to have the same level of parental involvement as two parents where one stays home?
If so, how as a society do we help the single parent stay as involved as two parents?
Before this devolves into any stereotypes, let’s look at some numbers from the Census Bureau.
69% of children in the United States live with two parents. In Comparison, 51% of kids live in single-parent homes in Chicago.
According to the Single Mother Guide, 72.5% of single mothers’ work.
So, what is the problem? If 72.5% of mother’s work, then they should also provide them with guidance, right? Raising kids is tough for two parents, let alone a single parent.
Therefore, single parents need some help.
What should we do?
Now that we laid out the problem, let’s look at some solutions.
Solution 1: Supply and Demand
As I mentioned above, we have a classic supply and demand problem. Too many schools for too few students.
The schools in the district had an average 8% loss in students between 2002 and today. This means we went from 622 students per school on average to 574 students per school.
Dividing up students between too many schools only hurts children.
First, we need to do is keep the charter school moratorium. If for no other reason than to stop the bleeding.
Second, we should evaluate the demographic layout of CPS students to find the best school for them based on their transportation and educational needs.
Solution 2: Use New Demand for Special Education
If we stop adding new schools we can redirect money for extra support staff like secretaries, librarians, and other support staff to special education positions. Chicago schools spend $300 per student less on special needs students than the average across Illinois.
Focusing on fewer schools gives more funds to special needs students.
This helps all children since it is a domino effect. Special needs students can slow down learning for other children. The rest of children become bored with school. Unengaged children get fewer awards, honors, and other academic credits needed for them to attend elite universities.
Solution 3: Tax Incentives for Active Parents
This idea might seem a bit out there, but I think we should give tax deductions to parents who spend 1 day per quarter at schools.
This would be ideal at a state or federal level. However, the city can step in if no one else will. What about giving discounts to parents who volunteer their time to spend 1 day per quarter in their child’s classroom.
Parents can apply the discounts to property taxes, city fees, or tickets. We might not be able to entice all parents with this offer, but it would reduce the excuse that parents need to work.
If they get an equivalent amount of money for spending time with their children, we could see an uptick in parent’s involvement in their kid’s classroom.
While 1 day per quarter might not seem like a lot, it can make a dramatic difference for children.
Imagine a class of 30 students where 20 parents sign up quarterly. The average school year is 170-180 days. A quarter lasts 45 days.
This means you have a parent in the classroom 2-3 times per week.
As good as this article is, it cannot solve all the problems in CPS in 1,111 words. Hopefully, the challenges discussed here as well as some of the solutions will spur elected officials, parents, and community activists to come to an agreement.
Still too much? Well, better than the status quo. Especially when the status quo does not work.
You heard my thoughts. Now I want to hear yours. Let me know in the comments whether you think all children deserve an equal chance at an education? Why or why not?