Keep Chicago 2016 alive… an open letter to the media and community on behalf of education

Chasing an Olympic vision brought together Chicago’s government, civic and corporate leaders in a way this town has rarely seen. It was an exciting, big idea for the city of Chicago.

There were questions about the real value of the Games, whether the city could afford them, or whether the current leaders could pull them off successfully.  But we heard how a generation of kids might benefit from the Olympic spirit, and how Chicago would build infrastructure to help our city and economy grow.

The amount of money, time and energy marshaled toward chasing the Olympics was unprecedented.  Major corporations stepped forward, local foundations donated money, and small shops proudly displayed their support for Chicago’s bid.

Refocus that effort toward meeting Chicago’s most pressing needs. Chicago 2016 should become an initiative for real education reform in Chicago. These same leaders should shift their focus and considerable heft toward creative ways to fix a failing system.  This is not a problem unique to Chicago, but Chicago could become a shining example for American education.

Make Chicago a world-class city by making our public education system actually work and align it with our city’s future. Instead of inspiring kids with the Games, let’s give generations of kids the skills to create and fill the jobs of their future. Let the infrastructure we build be a foundation to escape poverty and violence that traps many of Chicago’s families and limits Chicago’s economy and global competitiveness.

The entrepreneurs and tech workers from the Illinois Technology Association have helped to launch a new local public high school, and develop a curriculum, mentoring and teaching method that’s innovative and relevant.

The idea for the Chicago Academy of Advanced Technology (CAAT) originated with Mayor Daley’s LEADS initiative, but private sector leaders and a private operator stepped forward to open the school. There’s still so much work to be done, but there is an inspired principal and capable teachers in place now. The curriculum includes entrepreneurship and aptitude and tech skills to empower tomorrow’s leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators. Contract and charter schools like CAAT are not the only answer to Chicago’s problems, but they offer innovative lessons that can become a part of a broader solution.

CAAT is just one new school… every year tens of thousands of kids and families from Chicago Public Schools apply to get into “one of the good schools”.  Sadly, most of the 435,000 kids in CPS lose the lottery for limited seats for good education, and remain stuck in poorly performing neighborhood schools.

Helping to start CAAT was the first time I paid close attention to how badly we are failing kids in public schools.

Many of the kids entering high school haven’t learned to read or do math beyond elementary school levels.  More than half the kids at CPS don’t finish school. The abysmal education results and scores we hear don’t even include the kids that dropped out of the system and slipped away.

The brutal murder of Derrion Albert, an honor student making his way to school through a daily gauntlet of violence and apathy, adds paint to an already horrific canvas: a picture of abject failure to provide education, hope and a future to generations of kids in our community. 

If we’re to rally Chicago around a bold vision for the future, let it be access to quality education for every kid.

If we’re to collectively paint a picture and aspire to better times, Chicago 2016 should help fix a broken education system. Let’s bring the leaders of companies, communities and government together with the same zeal we pursued hosting the Games.

Delivering a public education in Chicago is our collective responsibility, and in our collective best interests. There’s been less innovation injected into education than nearly every other industry over the past 100 years. It’s easy to think our tax money entitles us to simply complain about the “lousy job that government, administrators, and teachers” are doing. And it’s legitimate to point fingers at parents who fail their own kids.

But civic leaders and entrepreneurs and mentors have a role to play, and we need to become more vested stakeholders in our schools and the lives of kids. The leadership of Chicago 2016 could make that happen. We could even keep the logo.

 — TERRY HOWERTON is the founding Chairman of the Illinois Technology Association.

 

  • The Illinois Technology Association (www.illinoistech.org), founded in 2005 to build a more connected, collaborative technology community, has nearly 700 member companies.

  • CAAT (www.chicagotechacademy.org) began last month for 150 new freshmen and was open to any student that applied who was lucky to win the lottery for a limited number of seats. 

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