When it comes to education, Chicago, America’s “Second City,” is nowhere near second. The kids aren’t learning despite piles of money being spent, and families are abandoning the system.
Money is certainly not the problem, as Chicago Public Schools spend about $29,000 per student. So, a class of 20 students costs the taxpayer almost $600,000 per year. Additionally, Chi-town teachers aren’t suffering; a rookie teacher makes $64,000 a year and eventually can earn up to $122,000 per year—not including pension and healthcare perks.
A great deal of the reason for the poor education system in the Windy City can be laid at the feet of the Chicago Teachers Union. As with most teachers’ unions, especially those in big cities, its primary goal is to advance a left-wing political agenda. In fact, the Illinois Policy Institute reports that the union spent nearly three times more on politics in 2023 than the year before, and just 17% of its spending was on representing teachers.
As former Mayor Lori Lightfoot noted in 2021, CTU would “like to take over not only Chicago Public Schools, but take over running the city government.”
In fact, that actually happened. The recent recipient of the union’s largess, Brandon Johnson, a former CTU “legislative coordinator,” became Chicago mayor in May 2023.
One important CTU mission is to deny parental choice so that its monopoly can remain intact. In 2023, Illinois’ modest scholarship program was killed by Democrats in the state legislature, making it the first state to eliminate an established choice program. With a big financial assist from CTU, 9,600 low-income kids who tried to escape from their traditional public schools are being forced back into them. And, of course, the 20,000 plus on the waiting list now have no hope of a better educational experience.
The hypocrisy of the move is really unparalleled. In an August interview, CTU boss Stacy Davis Gates was asked if she had concerns about school choice and privatization supporters running for the school board, and she quipped, “Yes, we are concerned about the encroachment of fascists in Chicago. We are concerned about the marginalization of public education through the eyes of those who’ve never intended for Black people to be educated. So, we’re going to fight tooth and nail to make sure that type of fascism and racism does not exist on our Board of Education.”
Shortly thereafter, it was revealed that Gates’ son attends a Catholic high school. After being outed, she defensively claimed, “It was a very difficult decision for us because there is not a lot to offer Black youth who are entering high school in Chicago. In many of our schools on the South Side and the West Side, the course offerings are very marginal and limited. Then the other thing, and it was a very strong priority, was his ability to participate in co-curricular and extracurricular activities, which quite frankly don’t exist in many of the schools, high schools in particular.”
What Gates can’t seem to fathom or admit is that her reasons coincide with all of those “fascist and racist” parents who send their kids to private schools.
The good news is that people are waking up to the fact that the union is hardly a force for good. An October 2023 poll showed that only 37% of registered Chicago voters have a favorable view of the CTU, with 46% reporting an unfavorable view.
The Chicago school board is also a great hindrance to educational excellence. In December, it passed a resolution that endorses phasing out “selective enrollment” schools, which are a path upward for low-income students. These 11 selective public high schools are racially and economically diverse, with 90% of children reading at grade level, and rank academically among the best in the state and nationwide.
The equity-obsessed board explained that Chicago should “transition away” from test-based enrollment policies “that further stratification and inequity in CPS and drive student enrollment away from neighborhood schools.”
A bright spot in Chicago is that, as former head of CPS Paul Vallas notes, “During the past two decades, over 227,000 Black families have left CPS… Of the children remaining, 54,000 have fled to public charter schools in Chicago, where over 97% of the population is Black and Latino, and 86% are from low-income households.”
When it comes to screwing up kids, Chicago should be designated as “The Second City…to None.”
And then there is Los Angeles, where the per-student outlay is a hefty $25,000. Yet, the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) revealed that just 19% of 8th-grade students are proficient in math and 28% are proficient in reading.
Perhaps no city did more damage during the time of COVID than Los Angeles. With a massive push from the United Teachers of Los Angeles, the school district shuttered its schools for more than a year, neglecting its students the entire time.
The union contract stipulates that the professional workday for a full-time, regular employee “requires no fewer than eight hours of on-site and off-site work.” Yet during the shutdown, then-UTLA boss Alex Caputo-Pearl engineered a deal that required teachers to provide instruction and student support for just four hours per day — and also to “host three office hours for students” every week. So, instead of a 40-hour work week, teachers in LA only had to be available for 23 hours. Additionally, teachers could create their own work schedules “and were not required to teach classes using live video conferencing platforms.”
When asked about the learning loss that students incurred during the shutdown, UTLA president Cecily Myart-Cruz ridiculously replied, “There is no such thing as learning loss. Our kids didn’t lose anything. It’s OK that our babies may not have learned all their timetables. They learned resilience. They learned survival. They learned critical-thinking skills. They know the difference between a riot and a protest. They know the words insurrection and coup.” She even went so far as to suggest that “learning loss” is a fake crisis marketed by shadowy purveyors of clinical and classroom assessments.
The enrollment in L.A. schools for pre-K through twelfth grade has fallen from 566,604 in the 2012-2013 school year to 422,276 in the 2022-2023 academic year. And many who are enrolled are not showing up. As such, L.A. school superintendent Alberto Carvalho has taken to door-knocks. Yes, the supe is visiting homes to find out why parents are not sending their kids to school.
While there are many reasons for the dwindling student population—families leaving the state, charter schools, etc.—one important factor is the district’s political agenda. In Los Angeles, the school district proudly hosts a “Rainbow Club,” which is a 10-week district-wide virtual club for “LGBTQ+ elementary school students, their friends and their grown-ups.” The poster specifies that it’s for children in TK–5th grade. (“TK,” or transitional kindergarten, is comprised of 4-year-olds.)
The sex-obsessed school district also devoted an entire week in October to celebrate “National Coming Out Day.” A “Week of Action Toolkit – Elementary,” sent from the Los Angeles Unified School District, outlines suggested lesson plans for elementary students around LGBTQ+ topics. The toolkit includes an “Identity Map activity” the purpose of which is for “students to think critically about identity and intersectionality.” It’s important to note that every second spent on this type of sexual engineering tripe is time when students could be learning their ABCs and 1,2,3s, which L.A. students so desperately need.
Also, L.A. is about to run out of COVID-bucks; the $190 billion in federal funds meant to help schools is about gone. According to Chad Alderman, L.A. could lose 2,570 teachers unless there is a new infusion of cash.
If the lower-performing teachers were to be let go, it would be beneficial. But, due to a stipulation in the union contract, the cuts will be quality-blind, and the newest hires, irrespective of quality, will be out of work.
In this “Fail of Two Cities,” it has been only the “worst of times” for government-run schools.
* * *
Larry Sand, a retired 28-year classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.