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Maura Kastberg Headshot

Who's Responsible in the Chicago Teacher Strike?

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This week in Chicago, 350,000 public school students stayed at home because their teachers were striking. The 50,000 students in Chicago that attend charter schools returned to school on time. The mayor of Chicago wants to expand charter schools. The public school teachers aren't happy about it.

The overall improved educational experience students enjoy in Chicago's charter schools is wonderful. But if charter schools grow to a point large enough, they will face many of the same challenges the public schools face.

Education is important to most parents. Any parent in Chicago has the option of enrolling their child in a charter school but it takes a parent who is paying attention and who is willing to exert the necessary effort to make that happen.

While none of this is startling, it does speak to the fact that the charter school parents and their children are more invested in their education than their public counterparts. This single fact goes a long way to explaining the improved results. Teachers at the charter school don't have to deal with as many disciplinary issues. They aren't struggling with students to complete homework assignments, read a book, pay attention in the classroom, not bring drugs or firearms to school, etc.

For years private schools have enjoyed a similar result. Students from wealthy families who wanted their child to get into a top college sent their children to private schools. Because private schools enjoyed a classroom full of similarly motivated students they also enjoyed higher test scores, smaller classes, better placements upon graduation, and higher graduation rates.

In the public sector we spend time and money studying why inner city children don't perform as well; we blame the teachers, the school buildings, the funding of the schools, and the lack of nutrition. We initiate Head Start programs, we serve breakfast and lunch, we create after school programs and it keeps getting worse. So what do we do? Do we continue to study it, spend and build? Do we give up?

Can we compromise? If students can't be responsible enough to behave in the classroom, should we force disruptive students to be home schooled? Would we see an improvement in test scores if we did? Is it responsible of us as a society to continue to allow the good student's education to be compromised by the disruptive student? If the public schools are filled with students who want to learn and students who cause problems learn at home, I think we could better assess some of the other variables of the equation like the teachers, the buildings, the funding, and nutrition.

Educating our youth is important. I work with students every day. But they have actively enrolled in our program and are working hard toward their future. Having equal access to education is also important. But fighting with parents who don't care and children who don't want to be there is not working. And for the most part it doesn't produce the desired results.

The questions are hard to ask. The answers seem even harder but trying to force disruptive students to conform to the classroom hurts those students that want to learn. It also seriously hinders the teacher's ability to teach. It's time to begin looking at alternatives to the education model that we've clung to since the 1800s.