School Reform, Chicago-Style | Letters | Chicago Reader

School Reform, Chicago-Style 

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To the editors:

I was glad to see Grant Pick's article on Hammond's school-based management program [February 24]. It was an informative piece on what's happening there and what implications Hammond's experience might have for Chicago's schools. Some things need clarification, however.

Hammond's school-based management was not a model for what finally passed in our legislature. What they are doing in Hammond is really process oriented. In other words, how decisions are arrived at is as (sometimes more) important as the decision itself. What we have in Chicago is more oriented to who makes decisions.

In Hammond, as your article documents, teachers play a fundamental role in making changes. In Chicago's reform law, there is only an advisory role for most teachers to play. Thus, teachers will have to assert themselves as leadership agents but will have little codified standing in this regard. In fact, teachers are usually the last to be consulted when suggestions for change are solicited.

The operative phrase in Hammond is "shared decision-making" and the school site is where this process takes place. The consensus process that goes on in the Hammond model would be entirely accidental in Chicago's schools because of the structure of local councils as designated by law. Chicago's school councils will be making their decisions as mini-boards, not necessarily as collaborative committees working on specific problems.

Chicago's school reform process cannot be compared to what other Illinois school districts do. That is entirely misleading. There are many districts in this state that have centralized systems, albeit smaller. There are no districts in this state where the principal is hired by a parent board. School boards across this state are all elected by the general citizenry living in that school taxing district.

More importantly, however, is what happens in the classrooms and how you get teachers involved in making the decisions that really affect student learning. Without that fundamental change, there won't be much "educational" reform in Chicago.

John Kotsakis

Assistant to the President

Chicago Teachers Union

N. Wells

Grant Pick replies:

I beg to differ with a couple of Mr. Kotsakis's "clarifications."

First, the Hammond design for school-based management does rely on consensus-building techniques to reach decisions. But the process seems less an end in itself than a way to enrich the decisions by involving everybody concerned--the teachers, parents, and administrators--in the consequences.

The Hammond plan gives no numerical quotas on who is included in each local school team, and so teachers have assumed prominent roles. The Chicago plan awards parents a controlling role in numbers. Yet it is pessimistic to dismiss the coming status of teachers here as "advisory." In fact, teachers will have two members on each 11-person Local School Council, and I doubt those two people will be quiet; moreover, they will undoubtedly be listened to. As in Hammond, it is hoped each local school can reach consensual agreement on how to proceed on various issues, although there is no guarantee.

As Mr. Kotsakis makes clear, he doesn't think cooperation will be the byword in Chicago. If everybody gets along, he figures, it will be an accident. So let's pray for lots of happy accidents.

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