Brizard, Lewis talk education

Schools leader and teacher leader field questions on hot-button issues

September 14, 2011

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The leaders of the sparring Chicago Public Schools and Chicago Teachers Union appeared together for the first time in public Tuesday night to talk about education.

They began so cordially, it was hard to tell they’ve been at war over a longer school day.

Union president Karen Lewis greeted CEO Jean-Claude Brizard in his native French, then quipped, “That’s a Chicago Public School education!”

The Chicago Tribune-organized forum was a tough crowd for Brizard. The audience was packed with teachers and union supporters. Lewis was funny and sharp. Brizard was polite and insistent. He highlighted common ground on issues such as adding more arts and music to the school day, reforming a broken system for evaluating teachers, and getting parents involved in their children's education.

The two leaders took questions about the longer school day, poor parenting, bad teachers, and how to attract the middle class to CPS. Lewis said for schools to become great, Chicago needs to think harder about the impact poverty has on parents, families and ultimately education.

“I think it takes a moral will,” Lewis said. “I think it takes a real honest conversation about poverty in this city and how to eradicate it.”

Brizard said his goal is to make every school one where parents want to send their children.

“So the vision for me is every child leaving CPS college- and career-ready.”

The CEO reiterated his call for a longer school day, which CPS says it plans to implement across the system next school year.

"A longer school day will get us to a lot of these places that we’re talking about—the arts, the music, the enrichment, the more math, the more literacy," said Brizard. "We do agree on a lot of the stuff that we’re talking about in terms of creating a much better school day for our kids."

Lewis charged that the push to add 90 minutes to elementary schools this year is about politics, and she challenged evidence Brizard cited that scores improve when students are in school longer.

Both agreed that education has become too politicized.

A member of the audience asked if Brizard's toddler will attend a CPS school.  “Unequivocally, yes,” Brizard answered.

Listen to the entire discussion, moderated by Bruce Dold, editorial page editor of the Chicago Tribune: