Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently announced the decision to close 17 of the worst performing schools in the Chicago public school system. His decision was met with hostility from Jesse Jackson and the leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union.
The President of the Chicago Teachers Union called the decision "educational apartheid." Mayor Emanuel defended his actions, appealing to Dr. Martin Luther King's belief in the "urgency of now" — the idea that no child deserves to be stuck in a failing system that will dramatically alter their life prospects.
The critics of the Chicago School Board's decision agree that these schools are failing, but believe it is due to lack of resources. They also have criticized the move because it will disproportionately affect schools with a large population of black students and black teachers.
The uproar over these closings is a great example of status quo bias and loss aversion — the tendency of individuals to irrationally prefer a bad status quo to an uncertain future resulting from change.
Something similar happened in the Washington, D.C. public schools when it piloted a new teacher evaluation system and teacher compensation initiative. The moves were so unpopular that former DC Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and Mayor Adrian Fenty lost their jobs. Politicians and educational leaders need this kind of courage for real change to take place.
Closing schools isn't always the right solution, but changing the culture of failing schools is incredibly hard. A fresh start is often the best option on the table, and no child deserves to be placed in a school that does not provide them with a real opportunity to succeed. The stakes are simply too high.
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