Friday, August 29, 2014

Parents of Chicago: Questions You Must Ask About Your Child’s School This Year

1)  How many teachers/staff left the year before and why?

Schools all over Chicago are in chaos.  Intentional chaos.  The year after the largest number of school closings in the history of the United States followed by massive budget cuts to many schools left a wake of destruction and pain.  Get the information from teachers and staff at your child’s school about how many teachers left and what’s going on that so many are getting out.  Ask about the school climate, how teachers, staff, and students were treated last year. Ask if teachers are miserable at this school.  Ask why they are miserable.  Many teachers are probably afraid to say anything, but if you ask them about it directly, they might open up.

2) Are there positions left unfilled and why?

It is possible your child will begin the school year with long term subs.  Be angry about this, especially if the position was filled the year before.  That teacher was likely run off by the chaos. 

3)  What is the situation with substitutes?

Speaking of substitutes, CPS has manufactured a severe shortage of day-to-day subs.  Many schools simply have no one to cover classes when teachers are out sick.  Your child may ILLEGALLY be taught by a classroom aide, specialist teachers like the art/music/gym teacher, or special education teachers pulled from their students with special needs.  

4)  Is your child’s teacher on a “provisional certification”?

CPS has many teacher positions filled with Teach For America or Chicago Teaching Fellows novices who do not have certification or experience working in schools.  Ask about your child’s teacher's certification, being specific about whether they are on an “initial” (new, fully-licensed teachers), “standard” (teachers with more than four years working in schools), or “provisional” (little to no training in teaching whatsoever.  And thanks to TFA lobbying efforts in Washington, parents are not even informed when their child’s teacher has not completed a training program).    

These untrained staff are often placed in special education positions despite having no expertise working with students with disabilities.  It is a gross injustice to allow these people to be placed in a classroom, but CPS is increasing the numbers to save on personnel costs.  Make a fuss about the administrator hiring people from these alternative certification programs. 

5)  What kind of discipline is happening at the school?

CPS is implementing a new discipline policy with very little support, planning, or alternatives.   CPS has completely outlawed suspensions in early grades and put quotas on how many days a child can be suspended for.  While it is commendable that CPS wants to cut down on suspensions and move toward more restorative practices, it is apparent that they have not given schools the types of resources to truly improve behavior.  Many schools are turning to oppressive discipline strategies that treat students like inmates in prison to quiet the chaos.  Ask lots of questions about if classrooms are safe spaces and what is being done to meet ALL children’s needs.

6) How much of a focus are standardized test scores?

If you walk into your child’s school and see a wall of data from testing or if schools give out awards to teachers based on this testing, be concerned.  A school which is overly focused on test scores often warps its curriculum to up these numbers…at any cost.  If your child complains about boredom, behavior problems of peers, or seems to be losing a love of learning, a test-focused school culture is often part of the problem.  And know, this push for better test scores often comes from higher-ups, not the school staff or administration.  Partner with them about how to resist the testing mania.  Often parents have a greater ability to push back than teachers.  The anti-excessive testing groups More Than A Score and FairTest have some great resources. 

7) The last, and most important question is “What can I do?”

Fight back.  Parents, we teachers need you.  We are being pummeled out there in the schools.  We will never be the kinds of amazing educators your child deserves if these purposeful policy attacks continue.  And know that this is happening all over CPS-including the charters.  There are no good choices out there as long as this system continues unchecked.

We need you to stand up for us, scream about the injustices we all see as loudly as possible.  Do not let CPS continue to get away with these injustices.  If the sick and twisted truth were out in broad daylight for all to see they could not do these things! 

Find out the whole truth. And then shout it out to winds.  Let’s force something better.

Members of BAM gather at the Neighborhood Schools Picnic in May 2014.   (Crystal Stella Becerril) From  

BAM (Badass Moms) /Neighborhood Schools Fair
Raise Your Hand
Community Groups ie KOCO, Albany Park Association, Brighton Park Association, Pilsen Alliance, etc

More you can do:
Go to CPS board meeting and speak up
Get involved in your school's LSC.

Tell your child's teacher you are on their side.  

And...Help Karen Lewis get elected for mayor so we can FIX these problems!