Jackson on Chicago's schools: Gap is 'bigger than Little Rock in 1957'

September 14, 2012

(WBEZ/Andrew Gill)

As Chicago’s teachers picketed for the fifth day, the contract talks wound to a slow and drawn-out conclusion.

But despite a reported framework of an agreement, Rev. Jesse Jackson has raised the issue of inequity in Chicago’s school system, saying in an interview on Friday that “the gap between the best-funded schools and the rest is a gap bigger than Little Rock in 1957.”

“You know teaching at Payton High and teaching at Harper High are different.  Teaching at Lawndale and Roseland are different than teaching in Lincoln Park,” Jackson said referring to CPS "magnet" and North Side schools versus those in the city's impoverished neighborhoods.

“Give these children the same tests at the end of 12 years, one scores high, one scores low.”
- Rev. Jesse Jackson

“[They’re] different challenges, but they’re all in one city, and one state, they’re not being afforded equal opportunity,” he said.
School Board President David Vitale said the two sides worked past the issue of teacher evaluations.

On Wednesday, Chicago Public Schools unveiled its latest contract proposal, which modified the teacher evaluation system known as REACH.

The issue of tying teachers to student performance has yet to be addressed.  The city would use so-called “value-added measures,” which are based largely on standardized test scores.

Amid the strikes and press conferences, whisperings of inequity have occasionally been brought to light.

Teachers from all over Chicago have complained about staffing, resources and job security, but beyond “buying my own classroom supplies,” there’s also systemic funding issues and disparities such as schools without air conditioners, nurses and social workers.

Jackson made it clear that those issues should not be left out of the conversation.

“They’re acting as if the playing field is even,” he said referring to the differences from the city’s inner city schools on the South Side versus that of the well-funded “magnet” schools on the city’s North Side.

“You look at the gap between Payton High and Harper High, Whitney Young High and Marshall High; those are two different [schools] in the same school system.”

CPS was reached for a comment, but not immediately available.

Jackson hit on the issues of disparities between schools and how teaching conditions are different when students raised in poverty and underfunded schools are being tested and weighted against their peers with more facilities and resources.

“If you were teaching schools in Lincoln Park where unemployment is less than five percent, and Lawndale and Roseland where unemployment is 45-50 percent. Unemployment—poverty matters.  Lack of access to education, matters.”

The issue was especially poignant when those tests are being tied to teacher evaluations.

“Give these children the same tests at the end of 12 years, one scores high, one scores low,” Jackson said.

The “value-added” scores being used in teacher evaluations would also incorporate classroom-based activities, projects, and labs that teachers will design as a student growth measure.

Classroom observations and student surveys would also be factored in, but the union considers the value-added scores unreliable.

“People cannot imagine how deprived these inner-city schools are without computers,” Jackson said.

“These kids are running track in the hallways, passing batons in the hallways.”