Today's Lesson for CPS: Tell the Truth

“We need to invest in our children, and our children’s children.”

We hear that kind of empty rhetoric over and over again while we spend more and more and get worse and worse results. Sadly, words and good intentions are all the children in the Chicago Public School system ever get from the Chicago 9.

As local newspaper columnists like to remind you, I’m not in the habit of soft-soaping my opinions; I’ll give it to you straight. The CPS bureaucracy and unions are failing their students and lying about it. They’re lying about it in order to extract more money for themselves and to protect their pensions.

The fact is, the Chicago Public School system is failing to educate our children. CPS graduates only half of its students, and only 6 of 100 CPS freshman will earn their bachelor’s degree by the age of 25. That’s worse than unacceptable. That’s child abuse.

CPS’s failure hasn’t kept Chicago Democrats from lauding its achievements. Recently, Mayor Daley heralded increased test scores as a sign that CPS is improving. In December, President-Elect Obama lauded his choice for Education Secretary, former CPS head Arne Duncan, by saying that “in just seven years, Arne's boosted elementary test scores here in Chicago from 38% of students meeting the standard to 67%" and that "the dropout rate has gone down every year he's been in charge."

These claims are false. In a recent editorial, the Wall Street Journal notes the truth is far different. It cites a new report, "Still Left Behind," from the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago that highlights CPS’s gross inadequacies. The report gives the lie to the notion that CPS is making gains, however incremental.

The report’s findings include:

• Most of Chicago’s students drop out or fail.

• The vast majority of Chicago’s elementary and high schools do not prepare their students for success in college and beyond.

• Recent dramatic gains in the reported number of CPS elementary students who meet standards on State assessments appear to be due to changes in the tests made by the Illinois State Board of Education, rather than real improvements in student learning.

• At the elementary level, State assessment standards have been so weakened that most of the 8th graders who “meet” these standards have little chance to succeed in high school or to be ready for college.

• The performance of Chicago’s high schools is abysmal – with about half the students dropping out of the non-selective-enrollment schools, and more than 70% of 11th graders failing to meet state standards. The trend has remained essentially flat over the past several years.

You want to see progress? On a 2007 federal National Assessment of Educational Progress exam, only 13% of CPS eighth graders were proficient in math – up 2 points from 2005. There’s your progress, Mayor Daley and President Obama.

Chicago Democrats, egged on by the teachers unions, insist that CPS’s failures are essentially a money problem, that CPS needs more funding. What they don’t tell you is that the CPS spends more than the state average per student and twice the state average per graduate.

But if you want to spend more money, I’m with you. A Proft Administration will do anything it takes to save those kids. Want to increase funding by $1,000 per student? Let’s make it $2,000. $3,000? I’ll double it. You cannot outbid me on this issue.

But here’s the catch: Instead of handing that money over to CPS, let’s attach it to the student and let his or her parents choose which school -- public, charter or private -- is best for them.

As the Civic Committee report notes, Chicago charter schools “outperform the traditional schools that their students would otherwise have attended; and the choices that they offer parents will help spur all schools in CPS to improve.”

Good advice. So why hasn’t Gov. Quinn signed the bill that would increase the charter school cap from 30 to 70? I’ll tell you why: Because to do so would upset the very folks – the teachers unions – who currently benefit from the status quo. And if the teachers unions are upset, the Chicago Democrats whose careers are supported by union campaign contributions are upset.

It’s this kind of inexcusable politicking that relegates hundreds of thousands of Chicago children to underperforming schools which offer no chance at a decent education. We need to stop pretending that CPS is getting any better. It isn’t, no matter how many press conferences our elected leaders hold to advertise the contrary.

It’s time to start looking at system change reforms that will actually educate our children, and set them on the path to be successful adults who can compete in our global, digital economy. As we know, a college education is increasingly what separates the haves and have-nots in our society. College graduates earn twice as much over their lifetime as those without a college degree, which means CPS’s failure is not just a moral problem. If our kids aren’t getting the basic tools to make a living, then it is a societal problem.

If we get education right in this state, then a lot of our other problems will be easier to solve. Right now, at least in CPS, one of the largest tax-funded systems in the state, we are nowhere near getting education right, and everyone knows it.



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