Progressivism Fails Students in Chicago

February 22, 2021

Chicago Public Schools (CPS), the nation’s third largest school district which serves over 340,000 students in K-12 education, and the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) have recently come to a tentative agreement on a plan to allow students back into the classroom after months of providing an e-learning only option. The agreement was reached after weeks of false starts, a protracted CTU bout with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the threat of a teacher strike. While this is welcome news, CPS’ reopening plan has come much later than many surrounding suburban school districts that are already months into implementing their own hybrid models. Worse yet, the plan still leaves high school students in Chicago with no in person learning option. The advantages of in-person instruction in the wake of COVID-19 school closures and mitigation efforts have been well documented. We know that extended periods of time outside the classroom have contributed to feelings of social isolation and higher dropout rates among students across K-12. We also know that certain socio-economic conditions can exacerbate these negative effects. Students from low-income households are more likely to not have access to reliable, high speed internet connection, more likely not to have access to extracurricular activities to augment online instruction and are more likely to experience food-scarcity. These realities have lead the Centers for Disease Control to update their Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools through Phased Mitigation and conclude that “it is critical for schools to open as safely and as soon as possible, and remain open, to achieve the benefits of in-person learning and key support services.” The key takeaway from this research and guidance has been that students learn best when they are learning in person. Indeed, for those that place a premium on equal outcomes, as many progressives purportedly do, it seems there is no greater driver of inequity in our education system right now than whether or not your child is in the classroom. Why, then, has it taken so long for schools in Chicago to begin returning to the classroom while their counterparts have lunged forward? When all of the science supports that schools can reopen safely, why has one of the nation’s most “progressive” cities equivocated and stumbled in realizing the best educational environment for its students? The answer rests in how willing you are to accept that the promoting social justice really is a priority at all for CTU, as outlined in their mission. The deleterious position of the CTU leadership to delay reopening and demand an aggressive vaccination schedule, despite CDC guidance not requiring vaccination as a precondition to reopening, is revealing. It is an opportunity to see past the opacity of the CTU’s rhetoric and identify their leadership’s real motivation to build a ruthless political machine. A political machine that prioritizes its own power over the best interests of hundreds of thousands of students and families in Chicago in need of dynamic leadership and real solutions in this difficult time. Further, this episode is a clear case as any as to how progressivism and its proponents, in this case the CTU, continue to fail working class families across the country, and especially those living in our country’s inner cities. The veneer of good intentions has worn off to reveal a hallow interior that is more about self-interest than improving outcomes. Marko Sukovic is a member of the Steamboat Institute’s Emerging Leaders Council. 

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