Broken beyond repair

Education as a system is broken in America. Whatever method you use to evaluate schools will yield a result that’s disappointing. While there are still good schools and communities where the K-12 model works, most don’t.

In Chicago, a city with nearly 400,000 public school students, a labor impasse finds schoolchildren staying at home for a third day, as teachers picket, demanding changes in how they are evaluated, more autonomy to teach, and an increase in their salaries and benefits. Meanwhile, the students are the losers.

Here are just a few stats about Chicago schoolchildren:

  • 87 percent of students come from low-income families

  • 80 percent of public school students are African-American or Latino

  • 60 percent of Chicago high schoolers graduate (nationally, the number is 75 percent, and in Chicago’s affluent suburbs, it’s close to 90 percent)

It’s hard to sympathize with teachers, even though they say it’s not about pay (average teacher salaries in Chicago are above $76,000 per year, with benefits) and more about autonomy. Perhaps it really is and if only I were a teacher, then I’d understand.

Jonathan Kozol has written extensively about America’s schools  and the inequality perpetuated by class and race. Chicago embodies all that’s wrong with public education in urban America.

We’re in the midst of a presidential race where lip service will be paid to education. President Obama, who receives support from the teacher’s unions, has one model of education that will perpetuate the failure of public education. His opponent, Mr. Romney, thinks privatizing education (the Republican solution to everything) will miraculously rescue the broken system. It’s a pipedream at best and better, just another recipe for continued failure.

The mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel has close ties to Mr. Obama, most recently serving as his White House Chief of Staff. Emanuel is known for his combative leadership style, which is never a positive trait for bringing opposing sides together.

A friend of mine reminded me recently about deschooling and writers like John Taylor Gatto, a former teacher, and his scathing critique of public education.

In a country where so many things seem broken beyond repair, education has become just another political talking point and subject for business leaders and local booster groups to wring their hands about. And, we’ll keep on talking as another generation goes out into the world, ill-prepared.