School Choice for Whom?

[Editor's Note: The following speech was delivered to the Chicago Board of Education by Jim Vail on December 16, 2009].

Chicago teachers and Substance reporter and CORE member Jim Vail speaking to the December 16, 2009, Chicago Board of Education meeting. Around Jim are members of CORE, GEM, and the Black Star Project, all of whom were critical of CPS during the brief "public participation" at the Board's last meeting of 2009. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Hi, my name is James Vail, a teacher, a reporter and a proud member of CORE. The Renaissance Plan is all about choice — where some students can elect to go to a good school, but the others can, well, what can they do?

Funny, I thought a good public education was a right for every student in this country — not a privilege for those savvy enough to navigate the city.

So the Ren 2010 plan closes neighborhood schools that “fail.” Never mind that they replace them with another failure — like awarding the Chicago International and UNO Charter schools more students even though they are also not making the Annual Yearly Progress which Mr. Huberman uses among other things to close the public schools.

We know the University of Chicago Consortium report states the Renaissance Plan has been a failure moving kids from school to school with no better results. Board members — are you familiar with this report? (silence).

Alderman Latasha Thomas, the head of the City Council’s Education Committee, told me it concerns her that the city is closing neighborhood schools with a charter school that no longer has to accept kids they don’t want in the community.

The market-based approach to increase so-called “school choice” actually leads to fewer educational opportunities, particularly for disadvantaged students in urban areas, according to University of Illinois at Champaign professor Christopher Lubienski. He writes: “Market-based educational policies, despite being implemented to alleviate social injustices in education, are actually helping to exacerbate inequality and erect further barriers for poorer students. Some schools consciously avoid riskier students to serve a more up-market clientele and that leaves riskier students marginalized and excluded from the better schools.

So, while it seems that this is the flawed course this Board prefers to take, I would encourage everyone to come to Malcolm X College January 9 for an Education Summit that will discuss how a good public education beholden to the community is a right for all – not a choice, especially for vulnerable children who we cannot afford to give anything less.

And I support the Altgeld Gardens people who want a unionized public neighborhood school with a functioning LSC.

Thank you for your time. 


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