School & District Management Opinion

Education Blogger Bans the ‘Blame Game’ in Chicago, the Whole Nation

By Marilyn Rhames — May 29, 2013 6 min read
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Who’s to blame for Chicago’s closing of 50 public schools? Well, I’m going tell you who! I hope you have a red pen so you can circle all the names.

Warning: There are nuggets of truth in this post, but there are also plenty of lies. I’m leaving it up to you to decide which is which and who should own this educational mess.

The President of the United States: He campaigned on improving education, but all he has done is push more of the same old failed “reform” strategies that pit state against state, school against school, and add higher stakes to standardized testing. How can he just sit back and say nothing while public education in Chicago—his hometown—goes to hell?

U.S. Secretary of Education:
He started this mess ten years ago in Chicago when he was the CEO of the public schools. He called it Renaissance 2010 and began the “turnaround” movement where the entire staff of schools were fired and new, so-called better administrators, teachers, janitors and lunch ladies were hired to turn the school around. A slew of new charter schools also opened. He created an atmosphere of disinvestment in neighborhood schools, and now look at where we are today!

The Mayor of Chicago: He has an ego that is bigger than the city itself. He has complete control over Chicago Public Schools because he hires the schools chief and appoints the school board. He has never taken a college education course but is making all the rules about how to fix schools. His years of no experience makes him confident that closing 50 schools at once—and totally ignoring the opposition from parents, teachers and the African American community that is most affected—is in the best interest of the 30,000 children who will be disrupted.

The CEO of Chicago Public Schools:
She is just the trigger man for the mayor. Her $250,000 a year salary is her price for servitude and loyalty. She’s bounced from New York, Cleveland, and Detroit, and now she is terrorizing Chicago. She might be a good educator, but we’ll never know. Right now she’s the yes-man for the mayor, and she has redefined the role of schools CEO—Cut Education Out.

Chicago Public Schools: They used faulty metrics to calculate which schools were “utilized” and “under-utilized.” They also misused data to label schools as Level 1 schools (failing), Level 2 (improving) and Level 3 (high achieving). The district staff is notoriously incompetent; they couldn’t close a book properly, let alone 50 schools. All the hearings leading up to the final closings list were just a charade. The district knew from the beginning which schools were going to close, and they did it at all cost.

The Teachers Union President:
She took an early stance that not one school should be closed and her unwillingness to budge earned her 50 closings. The union protects all teachers, including the bad ones who just want to collect a check. She has lost credibility with the mayor, policymakers, and the district powers-that-be a long time ago.

CPS Teachers: If teachers in those closing schools would just do their jobs, their students would not be failing and the mayor would have never closed the schools. Failing students equal failing teachers. Period. They treat tenure like their golden parachute.

CPS Parents:
They protested against their schools closing but where were they when their students were failing in those schools? Some of them weren’t even picking up their child’s report card during parent-teacher conferences. If parents won’t take an active role in their child’s education, someone else will do it for them—like it or not.

Poverty: It may not be a breathing human being, but it is the chief cause of the school closure in Chicago. If families can’t afford to buy nutritious meals, purchase decent clothes, shoes and basic toiletries, or pay the light bill, how can schools expect them to make education their top priority? Schools in poverty are destined to fail regardless of how hard teachers and administrators work. It’s about survival, not education.

Charter School Operators:
Charter schools have stolen resources and children from the district schools making the enrollment in CPS drop drastically over the years. They are running businesses based on government contracts, not educational institutions. This mass school closing is a blatant move to privatize public education, making the corporations that run charter schools rich and taking the government off the hook for educating its citizens. Once the 50 schools close, watch 50 new charter schools spring up!

Charter School Teachers: These teachers are accepting lower-salaries and fewer labor protections—and for what? They are not achieving any higher results for students than district teachers. They are just pawns of the corporations and being used to dismantle public education. This makes them partially to blame for the mess Chicago is in. Charter school teachers are at best naïve and at worst ... traitors!

Did I miss anyone? I’m sure someone else deserves the blame ... help me out .... Ah, yes, the reformers!

Education Reformers:
This group of pseudo-educators has destroyed trust and unity among teachers in districts like Washington D.C., Philadelphia, New Orleans and Atlanta. They have made standardized tests the end-all and be-all of educational achievement, which has caused teachers to cheat on student tests to save their jobs. They give credence to billionaire funders who think they can turn the educational model into a business model, where learning outcomes for LATINO GIRL A is formulated by a computer and projected on a spreadsheet inside the district superintendent’s office. These goals are unrealistic and narrowing the definition of a quality education. They should call themselves education “deformers.”

As you can see, there is plenty of blame to go around. The reality is that we all carry some burden of responsibility for the mess that Chicago and districts across the country are in.

For decades, we educators played the “blame game,” and it has only served to isolate us from each other. Blame only produces divisiveness, personal attacks, and hyper-polarization. There are the good guys and the bad guys, and all of us fit into both categories depending who’s blaming. Moderates, like me, are unwelcome nuances.

How can we restore civility to the discourse and put urban education on a solid footing? Center all comments on the students—and justify your position with research-based evidence, not emotion or intuition.

I purposely did not blame the students in this post. Sure, many of the older ones can do better for themselves, but students have to be inspired to do better. They need us to be role models. They need us to validate them—especially those in poverty. They must be convinced that they don’t have any other alternative but to learn, and learn well.

I’m calling for a moratorium on blame.
Who will join me?

Yes, we may have strong opinions, but are those opinions producing any goodwill? Are those opinions solutions-oriented? We can muster the restraint to agree to disagree without blaming each other (even if it’s well deserved and our counterpart is complete idiot)?

Let’s model the movement to improve schools after Dr. King’s nonviolent Civil Rights protests of the 1960s. Peaceful and loving, but powerfully strong and effective. King’s resolve and eloquent conviction was beyond reproach. And what an example we would set for our students—for history!

Politics and blame are vitriolic. That poisonous mix is killing education. Last week, that poison killed 50 schools in Chicago. And I was so upset when it happened the pain was slowing killing me.

The opinions expressed in Charting My Own Course are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.