End Chicago’s teacher residency rule

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As contract negotiations continue between the Chicago Teachers’ Union (CTU) and the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), one area that is likely to be on the table is the teacher residency requirement.  Chicago remains the only city within the nation’s 50 largest school districts to require public school teachers to live in the district where they teach.  Since 2000, cities across America have been abolishing their residency requirements for teachers.  Chicago needs to follow suit for both our teachers’ and our students’ sake.

Gina Caneva, Lindblom teacher and Teach Plus policy fellow

Gina Caneva, Lindblom teacher

When I think about my career and the reasons why I became a teacher, my thoughts center on one person, my 6th through 8th grade English teacher, Mrs. Kittle. In Mrs. Kittle’s class, I diagrammed sentences, compared my father to Atticus in To Kill a Mockingbird, wrote a ten-page research paper on AIDS, and faced my fears of public speaking, all because I had an amazing teacher.  And she happened to live outside of my school district.

I grew up in Lockport, a small suburb of Chicago, and have encountered effective teachers who lived in my town and outside of Lockport.  I am grateful that my town never had a residency policy because Mrs. Kittle, and countless other great, public school teachers I had during my academic career, didn’t live in the district where they taught. Requiring them to do so would have meant that they went to teach somewhere else.

Across the nation, urban districts have decided that a residency policy is a trend of the past because it limits teacher quality by deterring potential teachers from working where they are needed most.  Take Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for example, which terminated its teacher residency requirement in 2013.

Before the decision was made, more than 82% of Milwaukee education students stated that they would prefer to teach in a district without a residency requirement, and 62% were less likely to seek a position in Milwaukee due to the requirement.

Fear of a mass exodus

I have seen this effect first-hand with my college roommate.  She was a successful student teacher in Chicago and wanted to continue teaching here, but circumstances led her to live in the suburbs.  She was willing to commute but the residency requirement disallowed this.  As a result, we lost a great teacher candidate.

The fear, of course, is that there will be a mass exodus from the city by middle-class professionals. This hasn’t happened in Philadelphia, a city that terminated its residency requirement in 2001. When Philadelphia removed its residency requirement, the number of teacher vacancies actually dropped while the number of certified teachers increased.  In 2012, two-thirds of the 15,000 public school teachers in Philadelphia still resided in the city.

Chicago’s Board of Education should follow other cities in America and abolish our residency policy.  Instead of preventing teachers from leaving, Chicago should provide incentives for residency, to make people want to live in our city.  The city could partner with universities to offer teacher residents reduced or free tuition for advanced degrees.  Chicago could also offer transit cards much like those given at universities so that teacher residents could ride free.  The city could provide property tax subsidies for residents who decide to stay or down payment subsidies for new hires.

We need to give our students and teachers the same opportunities that students and teachers are getting all across our nation.  Chicago students deserve to have strong, qualified teachers from all walks of life and from places beyond the city.  Chicago public school teachers should be able to live where they want, the same as our colleagues in cities across America.  If urban students elsewhere are getting an opportunity of an expanding candidate pool, Chicago should have it as well.

Gina Caneva is an English teacher, instructional leadership team lead, and librarian at Lindblom Math and Science Academy.  She is a National Board Certified teacher and Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellowship alum.  Gina grew up in Lockport and lives in the Beverly neighborhood in Chicago.


  • dzipio

    Sorry, this would encourage middle-class flight to the suburbs. I have not seen any studies indicating Chicago suffers from a lack of qualified applicants, so if someone lives in the suburbs but wants to teach here in the city they can move here and have a vested interest in the city they work in. Our salary is adequate to cover housing costs in the city, and CPS should not be subsidizing suburban growth.

    • Proud & Frustrated CPS Teacher

      I disagree dzipio. This “middle-class flight” doesn’t exist. Sadly, the economy doesn’t allow for this type of freedom anymore. Who says that you have to live in any particular area to have a “vested interest” in it. That’s a pretty lame point of view. Decent, civilized and educated people have a vested interest in being a decent and civilized member of society any place they work or shop, etc. I have been a CPS teacher for 20 years and have lived most of that 20 years outside of the city. Love my career, my school, my kids and have close working relationships with the parents of my kids. Please tell me you don’t believe that all over the country their are failings within communities where the people don’t live where they work.

      • jt

        So you should NOT be teaching for CPS

        • Proud & Frustrated CPS Teacher


      • dzipio

        Teachers living outside of Chicago do not contribute to the Chicago tax base. It is ultimately up to CPS, but on this point I agree with them. And why live in the suburbs? There are many diverse neighborhoods in Chicago where we can live.

      • fergmelk

        Hmm… Well, I did not feel that was the case when my child had a teacher, also a 20 year CPS veteran, also a resident of the suburbs for most of her career. I had difficulty scheduling conferences with her, and she commonly left school 5-10 minutes PRIOR TO DISMISSAL!!!! Appalling and disappointing.

        Chicago does not lack for quality teaching candidates in it’s pool. If it did, perhaps this would be a different story. And I humbly disagree… It absolutely IS about middle class flight.

        If you don’t want to live in Chicago, don’t teach here. There are plenty of jobs teaching in suburban schools too.

        • Proud & Frustrated CPS Teacher

          fergmelk, out of all of the years your child attended school, you are going to use one teacher who acted unprofessionally as your argument for CPS teachers needing to reside in Chicago? Is it because she lived in the suburbs that created this lack of professionalism and appalling behavior? Not to mention that many of my colleagues live way north and our school is south, so I guess the argument can be made that they don’t have close ties to the community in which they work. Perhaps the same should be said for police, fire, teachers (suburban), clerks, accountants, dentists, and doctors/nurse. Should they only be allowed to work in the communities that they live in?

      • Robert Haaga

        but you benefit from the increase it taxes but don’t share the burden.

    • jt


  • Katie Osgood

    I find it telling that this article was written by a teacher at Lindblom, a selective enrollment high school with very few African-American teachers despite being located in West Englewood, an overwhelmingly African-American neighborhood. Lindblom was a Renaissance 2010 school where the originally much more African-American staff was fired and replaced by an increasingly whiter and younger staff. Today, many of Lindblom’s teachers have long commutes already from the north side of the city. This is a purposeful shift in school staffing policies that has resulted in dramatic drops in African-American teachers as neoliberal education reform spreads.

    What I feel teachers like Ms. Caneva miss is the impact of changing this policy will have on communities of color. The history of why this policy was presented in the first place (to build a strong middle class base in the city) is especially important for Black communities on the South and West sides of the city. The school where I teach is a neighborhood elementary school with over 90% of our teachers and all our staff and administration being African-American. A large number of these teachers live not far from the school in Roseland, bolstering many African-American neighborhoods in the area by investing in housing, shopping, and being actively involved in their communities. (I admit, I am not one of these teachers living near the school although I do live in a different working class neighborhood on the South Side.) The residency requirement means these dozens of middle class families are staying in the city. Without the requirement, I know many might leave for the nearby suburbs just a few miles away.

    I think it’s a lot easier to complain about the requirements if you pretend it’s just a personal decision. But it’s not. Changing these requirements will have significant impact on communities already reeling from disinvestment, joblessness, police brutality, and poverty. CPS school policy like turnarounds and charter proliferation has already taken a huge bite out of the black middle class as we lose veteran black educators and replace them with younger, whiter, and often uncertified novices like Teach For America provides. The issue is much bigger and more complicated than this article would have you believe.

    • disqus_21lQi3OzzD

      This is comment is the best.

  • CZ

    Not a shred of evidence about how changing this policy would improve Chicago schools, just a couple of anecdotes and some platitudes. This is one of the weakest Teach Plus-prompted op-eds I’ve seen; another “data point” demonstrating that “ed reform” might be on its last legs.

  • Proud & Frustrated CPS Teacher

    I have to say how frustrated I feel when people are all fired up about less important things like teacher residency and completely ignore the fact that your tax payer money is going into the pockets of all of the investors, I mean, education policymakers, that are opening charter network chains and doing back door deals with their buddies like the UNO organization and Juan Rangel. All taking care of each other and not the students of the city of Chicago. There is a new school Horizon something or other that is opening on the south side after their offices were raided by the FBI last year questioning fraudulent bookkeeping practices and other questionable activities. Horizon has a very poor reputation, however, they have been welcomed with open arms by CPS. Also, Horizon is known to have teachers (and their families) who are from Turkey being given visas to teach for the Horizon chain of schools. Additionally, many of the teachers that teach in charter schools are from the TFA organization which employ hundreds of “teachers” from all over the country to pass through Chicago by teaching for two years and moving on to law school and other types of employment. I implore you to do your due diligence in better understanding what is happening in CPS before you focus on things that the media want you to be focused on and not what you should be focused on. It is all a big distraction from the reality of what is going on. Try reading Diane Ravitch’s blog and substance blog.

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