Cairo Association of Teachers - Newsletter

CAT Tracks for August 23, 2006

I gave you "fair and balanced" on D.C. Here is "unfair and unbalanced" on Chicago and Illinois.

From the IL Loop...

R. Eden Martin, who is president of the Commercial Club of Chicago, has a letter in Thursday's Tribune calling for an expansion of charter schools.

(The Commercial Club is a group of leaders of the business, professional, cultural and educational communities, and has had enormous influence on developments going back more than 125 years.)

Unfortunately, Mr. Martin ignores the lack of options in the suburbs or in downstate Illinois. Below is a message that I have sent to him, followed by his letter in the Trib.

If you also would like to write to Mr. Martin, you can write to him by clicking this address (he is also a partner at Sidley Austin):

You may want to tell Mr. Martin about your personal experiences in looking for school options in the suburbs.

-- Kevin


To: R. Eden Martin
Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago

Dear Mr. Martin,

I represent the Illinois Loop, a group of parents, teachers, school board members and others working for academic improvements in Illinois schools.

I heartily concur with your call in this morning's Tribune (copied below) for raising the cap on charter schools in Chicago.

However, the action you call for would only address the crisis on monopoly control within the boundaries of the city of Chicago. The same problem exists throughout the state of Illinois, but it is only the city of Chicago that has actively welcomed charters at all. In the rest of the state, monopoly control persists.

There are kids in terrible conditions in many cities and towns around the state who do not have the options that kids in Chicago do. Why shouldn't children in Rockford, Joliet, Peoria, Moline or the more impoverished suburbs of Chicago have the same opportunities as children in the city of Chicago?

But the problem is not limited to merely poor or inner-city areas.

It is a great maxim that children are different and have different needs, so no district can claim to provide all things to all people. Even in middle class or affluent suburbs, a constructivist school program in the district might be great for some children but toxic to others, while children in some other district may enjoy more group activities than offered in their schools' more traditional program. Why, then, are all of these kids forced to go to schools that are not appropriate for their needs?

Here's a startling irony: Suppose you're a suburban parent. You've read about such wonderful educational developments as Core Knowledge, Classical schools, and Saxon Math, and think they would be great for your child. Well, you can't get ANY of these at ANY public school ANYWHERE in the Chicago suburbs! As of today, your only option is to move into Chicago, where those options exist!!!

Other states recognize this need. That's why there are over 180 charters in Wisconsin, over 200 in Michigan, over 210 charters in Ohio, and over 500 in Arizona.

A major difference between Illinois and these more responsive states is that in Illinois the local school districts have been given life-and-death control over charter proposals. To create a charter in Illinois outside Chicago is akin to going to a McDonald's operator and asking to build a Subway in his parking lot so that his customers can have a healthier choice.

The solution includes:

    As in other states, break the school district monopoly by allowing more chartering agencies, such as universities and educational foundations.

  1. Regulate and fund charters through a state agency or a special statewide charter district, rather than through the local districts with which they compete.

  2. Give charters a chance to prosper, by allowing them to accept students from any Illinois town, rather than only from a single district.

Mr. Martin, I urge you to use your influence and position to enable school options for ALL of the children in Illinois, not just those in the boundaries of the city of Chicago.


Kevin Killion
Director, The Illinois Loop


Mr. Martin's original article:

Chicago Tribune
August 17, 2006


End Chicago Public Schools monopoly R. Eden Martin, President, Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago

State Sen. James Meeks, pastor of Salem Baptist Church, has put the spotlight on a serious problem, raising concern about the quality of teaching in poor and minority schools.

With some notable exceptions, Chicago's schools have the least qualified teachers in the state. But he is wrong to criticize Mayor Richard M. Daley for the problem ("Meeks `admonishes' Daley on schools; State senator leads march, criticizes mayor on education," Metro, July 29).

The mayor does not pick the teachers in these schools; the principals do. The main reason we have weak teachers in Chicago's schools is that the schools operate as a monopoly.

Unlike suburban families, most of whom have options as to where to live, most Chicago school families do not have such choices.

Where there is no school choice, there are no consequences to failure--and little or no incentive on the part of the principals or the teachers to improve results.

The fact that the schools are a municipal monopoly makes the problem worse. Local politics trumps educational quality.

The Chicago Teachers Union makes it hard to get rid of tenured teachers; few even receive a bad review, no matter how poorly they perform. School principals have little incentive or ability to take on the union.

The way to attract and retain better teachers is to end the monopoly.

Charter and contract schools--when set up correctly--provide alternatives for Chicago's school families.

These public schools do not "cream skim." When they are oversubscribed, students are chosen by lottery.

Today there are long lists of students waiting to get into these schools. Charter schools are not constrained by the existing union agreement or burdensome regulation, and therefore operate with greater flexibility (e.g. longer hours) and more innovation.

Teaching is generally better in charter schools, and students in Chicago charters generally perform better than in CPS schools in the same neighborhoods.

When enough students leave traditional schools to enroll in charter schools, principals and teachers will get the message.

To his credit, the mayor--with help from the business community--has been a strong supporter of charter schools.

But the Illinois legislature, under pressure from the school unions, has capped the number of charter schools for Chicago at 30. Today the number of Chicago charter schools has grown to 28. The cap needs to be eliminated.

Meeks serves in the Illinois Senate. He and his colleagues in the legislature can help improve the schools by getting rid of the cap on charters and ending the monopoly.