The language of the education debate that focuses on bad teaching doesn’t match parents experiences with their children’s teachers, say members of Parents4Teachers, a grassroots organization dedicated to supporting Chicago Public School teachers.
“Many of us know how amazing our kids’ teachers are and how much they love them and how much they’re learning,” said Kristina Roque, a P4T member and CPS parent.
Roque said the organization “kind of evolved from parents having conversations about the terrible things being said about teachers.”
“Our vision is to change the terms of the debate,” said Erica Clark, P4T co-founder and CPS parent. “The real issues are race, poverty, inequitable funding, and over-emphasis on testing.”
At a Parents4Teachers fundraiser this week, Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, focused on education reform and said that kindergartners are required to take 14 tests this year.
“Do not allow your child to be abused this way,” she said. “What is called education reform should be called child abuse.”
A CPS spokeswoman said kindergartners are not required to take 14 tests this year, but did not elaborate.
Guy Nickson, a CPS parent and owner of Wishbone Restaurant where the fundraiser was held, takes issue with testing and the emphasis on test scores.
“I saw, from the perspective of my son, that they can get very good if you teach to the test,” he said. “They can put stuff in their memory sack for 48 hours and then purge completely. And that’s a wrong incentive for kids. It has nothing to do with education.”
Nickson also said testing was not helpful for children with special needs.
“Principals are under huge pressure to drop out the very people who really need the most help from our public school system,” he said. “It’s just very wrong."
Nickson said that as a businessman it’s in his interest to support teachers.
“We happen to live here in Roscoe Village/West Lakeview area,” he said. “The part that makes this neighborhood is really the schools.”
Many parents at the fundraiser also said that they wanted schools that helped define the neighborhood.
“It’s important to me for every kid to be able to go to their neighborhood schools,” Roque said. She didn’t feel connected to the neighborhood kids when she grew up, becauseshe went to a private school, not the public neighborhood school with her neighbors.
“[Students] should get a good education and have good teachers and have good resources,” she said. “Our mission is to provide quality neighborhood schools to every kid in the city,” said Erica Clark, noting that parents and CTU share the same goals. P4T hoped to raise $3,000 to rent rooms for forums, maintain their website and pay printing and material fees for their advocacy work for small classes, an elected school board, a moratorium on school closings and limits on testing.
“I don’t always say all parents should always support all teachers unions,” said Jim Clark, a CPS parent and P4T supporter. “But I think this union has a really good perspective. This is a particularly special teachers union.”
“I think people lose sight of the fact that where the teachers work is where my kids learn and where they spend most of the day,” he said.
More than 200 people purchased $25 tickets to attend the fundraiser that served southern food and featured the music of Matt Farmer, Steve Doyle and The Cajun Vagabonds.
The next monthly P4T meeting is 7 p.m. Oct. 25. The location is to be announced.