Our Blog

Chicago Public Schools: "That Used To Be Us"

Posted September 14, 2012 9:11 AM by Dylan Miyake

As has been widely reported, the teachers in Chicago are on strike. The teacher's union, some 25,000 strong, is demanding that laid-off teachers be given the first opportunity for new opening and for an evaluation system that does not rely as heavily upon student results. They're also upset about the calls for a longer school day and a longer school year. Of course, at the end of the day, neither the administration or the teacher's union will "win" this one. Only the students stand to lose, and here's why.

Unfortunately, the teachers and the administrators in Chicago are fighting about the wrong things. They're fighting about 20th century issues in a school system designed to produce students for 20th century jobs. But we don't live in that century anymore. As Thomas Friedman wrote in his book That Used To Be Us, the old adage "As GM goes so goes America" is no longer true. Which is better for us as a country. But it means that we need to prepare our students for the challenges of today, not fight about the issues of yesterday.

Longer school day. Gotta happen. 
Longer school hours. Gonna happen.
Better teacher evaluation. Gonna happen.
Better pay. Gotta happen.

But we need to take the discussion beyond testing and what's fair or not about testing and think more about how we're preparing our children to succeed. What are we doing to foster creativity, entrepreneurship, problem solving, and all the other skills that are necessary for success (and survival) in this new century. Technology has made (and is making) the world flatter and faster every day.

Our children will have to succeed in a world where they are competing against people that are hungrier (literally), more highly motivated, and (increasingly) better prepared. Going back to That Used to Be Us, the authors note that we've moved beyond "outsourcing" as a concept. Now design, manufacturing, production, marketing, and sales happen everywhere at the same time.

And it's no longer just a cost decision -- it's a capability decision. Who can do the best job? Often, it's Foxconn (in China, for Apple's manufacturing). We need to radically re-imagine America's education system for the disruptive challenges we now face. The system has worked wonders in bringing us to where we are now. It's time for a change to address the new challenges we face.

I don't have all the answers, but I know that we need to get beyond the politics of us vs. them, teachers vs. administrators, etc., and start asking the hard questions about how we will transform the educational system to provide America a foundation for continued prosperity into the 21st century. If we don't, in 50 years, we could look at an ascendant China, Brazil, or India, and say -- "that used to be us."