Friday, July 15, 2011

Students Protest Chicago's Police Approach to Education

"What is wrong with Chicago’s public school system?"
It’s a question that perplexes policy commentators and school administrators alike. Yet, students and parents know the answer. Yesterday, they made their voices heard at Chicago Public Schools (CPS) headquarters in a protest headed by Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE). Their message: Stop suspending and arresting students for minor offenses and invest more heavily in college and career preparation rather than in security and police forces. They’re policy failures in school districts across the country, but the problem is particularly acute in Chicago.


Money for Career-Training, Not Policing
CPS currently spends a whopping fifteen times as much on campus security guards than on college and career coaches ($51 million vs. $3.5 million). VOYCE reports that students have arrested for relatively innocuous offenses such as scribbling graffiti on school desks and suspended for crimes like carrying cell phones or wearing jeans. Parents and students rightly argue that such a heavy-handed approach to discipline matters is both counterproductive and expensive.


Not only do such practices derail the educational progress of already struggling students, they also divert vast resources from teaching and learning toward policing. And that’s just it – Chicago runs its school system the same way it polices its streets. CPS maintains an archaic school bureaucracy that’s essentially managed out of the mayor’s office and not directly by the communities it serves.


A Community-Led Solution
Simply consider the fact that the former CEO of the CPS was a career police officer appointed to the position by Mayor Daley. Chicago’s new mayor, Rahm Emanuel, was been quick to put a career educator in the role of CEO, but Chicago shouldn’t have to rely on the off chance of good mayoral judgment to ensure that its school system is focused on educating and not policing its students. Beyond failed draconian policies, the system itself is the cause of many of Chicago’s woes.


Poverty is inevitably a problem and tensions within the community itself certainly aggravate the situation, but – to borrow a phrase – there’s nothing wrong with Chicago that can’t be fixed by what’s right with Chicago. Parents and students are making their voices heard, now CPS needs to get out of the way and give the communities served by the school system the greater role they deserve in shaping effective policies. 


Students and parents already have the right answers and only they can reverse the policies, practices, and attitudes that have kept too many of Chicago’s students of color from thriving.

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