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IFT President Dan Montgomery debunks the “Myth of School Choice” at the City Club of Chicago

IFT President Dan Montgomery addressed a packed room at the City Club of Chicago this week to weigh in on the state of education and the myth that “choice” is the solution to education inequities in Illinois.

In a speech entitled, “The Myth of School Choice: A Conversation on Charters, Public Schools, and our Priorities,” the IFT leader and veteran educator described the democratic ideal of education espoused by his personal hero, John Dewey. Dewey’s work outlined the importance of education at democratically-run schools in furthering our democracy.

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Click here to watch President Montgomery deliver his remarks in their entirety. 

Montgomery pointed to Niles North High School, a public school governed by an elected school board in Skokie, Ill., as an example of Dewey’s philosophy in action. A stark contrast to the so-called choice models in Chicago and elsewhere that often allow schools to cherry pick the best students and exclude those with special needs, behavior problems, and other challenges, Niles welcomes all students in the community. The result? The school has graduated three Nobel Laureates. 
That is the promise of public education, he said.

While choice advocates imply that charters and other alternatives are the answer to perceived public school failings, the facts point instead to a greater need for what makes schools like Niles North effective, including  “healthy, well- resourced districts that provide high quality instruction, have no trouble attracting good teachers, have plenty of social workers and counselors, have programs for the parents and community, pay relatively well for the profession, and are entirely unionized,” Montgomery said.

“They have very rich extracurricular programs, from every sport and club imaginable, to social clubs, service organizations, theater, music, band orchestra, dance, newspapers, literary magazines, entrepreneurial and business clubs, biking, language and culture,” he added. “Is it any wonder that parents there do not clamor for some alternative schools for their children?” he asked.

With quality, public models like this to strive for, the recent $42 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to expand charter schools in Illinois is puzzling.

A recent poll of Illinois voters found that school choice ranks dead last in their concerns about education.

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A lack of parental involvement, cuts to funding, overuse of standardized tests, the impact of poverty and hunger on student learning, class size, and difficulty attracting good teachers all rank ahead of choice.

Montgomery explained that the IFT and our national union, the American Federation of Teachers, do not oppose the concept of charter schools, and applaud those that demonstrate success for students and staff. He praised the efforts of Chicago ACTS, an AFT/IFT local affiliate that organizes charter school professionals and currently represents more than 1,000 charter school teachers and school staff in the City of Chicago. He also recognized charter success stories like the Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy, which Montgomery said is “exceptional and has a clear, innovative purpose.” The school has an established mission of preparing students for success in competitive colleges and universities and providing job readiness certifications in entry-level positions in the healthcare sector.

But these charter successes are not the norm, Montgomery told the City Club audience. On the whole, charters have proven to do no better than neighborhood, public schools - and many do worse. That’s why the IFT proposes ending new charters and requiring all charters to maintain the same standards of transparency as neighborhood public schools. Our union also advocates for reigning in the power of the Illinois Charter Commission, he added, which grants charters to schools in districts that do not even want them. The IFT supports HB397, a bill that would limit the ability of the Commission to override local decisions.

The answer to what ails public education in Illinois is not more unproven alternative education options, Montgomery concluded. What our state needs, above all, is a period of “recuperation to rebuild the system of truly public, democratically-run schools in Chicago and statewide,” he said.

Watch the complete video of Dan Montgomery's speech to the City Club of Chicago here.

For a fact sheet on charter schools in Illinois, click here.





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