Amanda Ripley

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Old-School Drama

17th Sep 2012 posted in Education

Chicago’s children are trapped in a time warp. In the year 2012, in a city where only 6 out of 10 kids graduate from high school, in the richest country in the world, local leaders shut down the schools to fight about who dissed whom first. It’s a story so familiar worldwide that it feels almost Old Testament, and it’s one that always ends badly.

Here’s my take on the situation in the Wall Street Journal.

The bottom line: there are many countries that have revolutionized their education systems. But there is no precedent for any country doing so through strikes, walk-outs or righteous indignation. Not one.

I wish there were. I have no sympathy for politicians who do not understand politics; I have no patience for the obfuscations coming from union leaders and their defenders in Chicago. If breaking the union would serve the interests of Chicago’s 400,000 students, this problem would be easy to fix.

But alas. “One of the clearest lessons looking around the world is that you can’t build a great system with pissed-off teachers,” says Benjamin Levin, a former deputy minister for education from Ontario, a place that has learned that lesson the hard way. “You can’t bludgeon your way to greatness.”

What happened in Chicago is about more than just Chicago. It’s about education reformers trying to backwards engineer a professional workforce—which is like trying to turn a rowboat into a space ship—and union leaders fighting to get back to a placid sea that no longer exists.