The Chicago Teachers Strike and Schools as Ecosystems


Nearly 30,000 teachers and school staff went on strike today in Chicago. What does this have to do with Schools as Ecosystems?

In our original manifesto on Gotham Schools, Mark and I announced that “principles for maintaining a healthy ecosystem…can provide guidance in strengthening our school environments.” We wrote that, if we view schools as ecosystems, “then struggling schools are depleted ecosystems desperately in need of resuscitation and support. Such resuscitation requires a holistic, long-term approach.”

The City of Chicago is doing everything it can to starve its public school ecosystem so that it can be subdivided into charter schools operated by private, for-profit companies. As reported at salon.com:

“In Chicago, where teachers are already one of the city’s lowest-paid professions, the city public school system wants to lengthen the school day by 20 percent. In exchange, the district at one point agreed to a mere 4 percent raise for teachers, but Mayor Rahm Emanuel canceled that agreement and is now only offering a 2 percent raise

Prior to going on strike for the first time in 25 years, the Chicago Teachers Union won ‘concessions’ including that the school board would provide textbooks on the first day of school. Teachers have previously had to wait up to six weeks into the school year for instructional materials to arrive. And the union wants to limit class sizes, which are the largest in the entire state of Illinois. These aren’t the demands of greedy thugs. These are the demands of teachers who want to teach…

Meanwhile, under the guise of ‘reform,’ Emanuel wants to vastly expand charter schools in Chicago to eventually encompass half of the city’s education system. This amid evidence that charter schools siphon taxpayer money and strong students out of public schools and leave poor students and students with disabilities worse off. But Rahm Emanuel actually hired protesters to make his proposals look good while demonizing teachers. But parents are standing with the teachers and their union.”

Our mission at Schools as Ecosystems is intellectual: we want to change the way people look at schools. What’s become clear to many, including our friends at Gotham Schools, is that the Chicago strike is more a battle of ideas– an intellectual battle– than a financial one. Will teachers, parents and communities control their children’s school environments, or will these school ecosystems be turned over to profit-minded developers? Will state and municipal governments continue to starve their most depleted schools of funding, or will they give those schools and their students the infusions of resources that they desperately need?

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