For students’ sake, Chicago must address poverty, violence

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Jesse Sharkey, Chicago Teachers Union

Courtesy Chicago Teachers Union

Jesse Sharkey, Chicago Teachers Union

Recent tragedies related to gun violence have led to increased calls for more stringent gun control nationwide, but here in Chicago, atrocities occur daily. For some, it may be easier to obtain a gun than it is to get an education. More than 500 Chicagoans were killed due to gun violence in 2012. Of these deaths, 62 victims were children, and more than 440 children suffered gunshot wounds, according to various media outlets.  

We are a city in crisis—because we are a city of poverty.

“We cannot ‘fix’ what is wrong with our schools until we are prepared to have an honest conversation about poverty and race,” said Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) President Karen Lewis in a speech before the City Club of Chicago on November 20, 2012. Many schools targeted for action by Chicago Public Schools (CPS) are in communities where drug abuse, gang warfare and unemployment are rampant, but instead of working to change the community, CPS chooses to target the school. It’s akin to putting a Band-Aid on a broken leg.

We all need to recognize that poverty must be addressed if we are to close the education gap and provide the best quality of life for our students and their families.

Gun control is a crucial element in this struggle, but gun violence flourishes only amidst darkness and despair. The lack of gainful employment, basic social services, mental health facilities and other supports are directly related to poverty, which is a precursor to inner-city violence. Ending the cycle of poverty is the only chance of saving our students and their community.

The CTU would like to invite our members of the Illinois General Assembly, Chicago Board of Education officials and policy experts to help us design a nationwide tour of schools with successful social and emotional supports that will help us improve, broaden and expand the services currently available to Chicago students.

Some suggested stops on the tour: 

  • Visit the six national Blue Ribbon schools in Newark, New Jersey.
  • Investigate the impact of the Global Village Zone in Newark, New Jersey, which is an effort to coordinate instruction, teacher coaching and family social services in seven high-need neighborhood schools in the city’s Central Ward.
  • Visit Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles, California—a school that has implemented successful social justice and community engagement programs.
  • Assess the impact of higher school funding formulas in New Jersey and New York
  • Examine the Learning Opportunities Index and Model Schools interventions in Toronto, Canada.

These are just a few of the models that work to engage students and parents and address poverty and violence. The CTU welcomes a dialogue on which programs make the most sense to replicate locally. Our goal is to act quickly to address the tremendous loss of life and human potential that continues to afflict our great city. 

Jesse Sharkey, Vice President

Chicago Teachers Union