by Chris Butler

The Walton Foundation won’t be funding charter work in Chicago any time soon. That news came to charter school and school quality advocates as an undeniable setback for a movement that has engaged thousands of parents and provided access to college and careers for multiplied thousands of students in Chicago. But it also seemed to set anti-charter advocates like Diane Ravitch off on a woefully premature victory lap. “It shows that resistance works” Ravitch declared when asked about her thoughts on Walton’s decision to stop funding charter work in the city. “There’s very active resistance (in Chicago), not just from the union, but from parents on the ground”.

Hold the phone.

As a parent, a church leader and an advocate for equal access to high quality education, I certainly wish that Walton would stick with the parents in Chicago even in difficult times. But, I am aware that while sticking it out would be the morally right thing to do, it might not be the most pragmatic course of action. I do, however, have to call out this ridiculous assertion of massive parent “resistance”.

I know that the Chicago Teachers’ Union has become a public relations juggernaut that dominates media headlines with mass rallies, strikes threats, and even a strike run-through. I know that the union has supported and coordinated with community organizations to drum up support for their anti-charter and anti-reform rhetoric putting a “community face” on things. I’m even aware that the CTU has successfully made a beleaguered mayor and an irresponsible governor the public face of charters in Chicago, overshadowing the tens of thousands of parents who choose charter schools everyday. But, neither Diane Ravitch nor the Walton Foundation should misconstrue any of this as parent resistance.

Let me tell you about the parent resistance that is taking place with parents on the ground.

I first realized the resistance on those cold January mornings when I used to help run the annual New Schools EXPO, an information and enrollment fair for charter schools in Chicago. I wish that Ravitch could have seen the hundreds of parents who stood out in the frigid winter air an hour before the doors opened, hoping to gain access to a meaningful opportunity for their child. I wish that she could have spent the day with me walking the floor and chatting with a few of the more than 5,000 parents who came through over the course of the day. You’d never catch these folks at a rally (for or against charter schools). But, each of them was part of the resistance. They were taking matters into their own hands and scrapping to find something that the public school system in Chicago had not provided, a quality education for their children.

It became clear to me that this resistance was not just a charter school phenomenon when I worked with Parent Power Chicago to organize the first ever Chicago School Fair, a school options fair featuring all of Chicago’s school choices- traditional public schools, public charter schools, selective enrollment, Catholic, independent and even home school resources. More than 20,000 parents and students flooded McCormick Place. The resistance overwhelmed the space and the materials we had prepared for the day. Parents were pushing back against the notion that they should sit and wait for their assigned school to be great. They wanted a quality school right now.

Read the rest at Chicago Unheard.

Chris Stewart is the Chief Executive Officer of Education Post, a media project of the Results in Education Foundation. He is a lifelong activist and 20-year supporter of nonprofit and education-related causes. Stewart has served as the director of outreach and external affairs for Education Post, the executive director of the African American Leadership Forum (AALF), and an elected member of the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education.


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