When I was in the early grades in my Chicago Public School on the west side, this was the time of year that we wrote letters to Santa.
By third grade, I was pretty sure that Santa wasn’t real (or at least that my neighborhood wasn’t on his route), but there was something comforting about penning a little note to the fictional jolly fellow in red. For, a few moments you could pretend that he’d come through with that extra special toy right at the top of your list. And there was always the outside chance that your letter could end up in the hands of one of Santa’s helpers at the United Way and they’d get all dressed up like Santa and bring the gift to your school in time for Christmas break.
It is in that same holiday spirit that I’m writing this little note today. Maybe Santa is out there somewhere; finally ready to make my wish come true. And if not, maybe somehow it ends up on the desk of the governor or in the hands of the Illinois Speaker of the House and the holiday spirit moves them to bring a smile to one guy’s face this Christmastime.
First, let me apologize for not writing you for so long. I guess somewhere along the way I stopped believing (even in your ability to hand my letters off to the United Way). Plus, as an adult, I figured that I shouldn’t bother you with requests for toys and trinkets that I could buy for myself. But this year there’s something that I can’t get for myself: a great-big, whole-hearted, commitment to education reform, if not nationally, at least here at home in Chicago.
This is really important to me because it is going to have a huge impact on my family and I. As you probably know (seeing as how you see me when I’m sleeping and know when I’m awake), my wife and I are homeowners and business owners in this city. Our property values and ability to recruit talent are tied to this.
Not only that, but we have three little children who we plan to raise, not just in this city, but for this city. We want them to love Chicago and work to make it better like we do. We can probably chose whatever mode of schooling we want for these three. But, we think a lot about their little friends (most of whom have no choice right now but to attend public schools). We know that our children’s success in life is inextricably connected to that of the other little people with whom they will come of age.
I want to be a little more specific for a moment. I’m sure you’re probably familiar with most of the stuff I’m going to say since you have been working with kids for such a long time, so I’ll be brief.
- We need way more high quality school options.
A lot of folks would be angry with you Santa, if you publicly supported school choice. But, really the ability to choose is what liberates a family from poor schools (or poor anything for that matter). People stop giving you crap when they know that you don’t have to take it from them. It is that simple and no amount of political rhetoric will ever change this fact.
- We need more support for parents so they make informed choices.
I’m not talking about a world where nothing matters besides test scores. But, don’t you need some objective standard to know what is good and what is not? I’m certain that it must work that way in your toyshop. Standards are not bad. They shouldn’t be misused to abuse teachers, parents or students, but we need them. Parents also need to be able to easily access information that is equally important (you know, the culture and climate stuff like safety and extra curricular activities).
- We’ve got to rethink HOW we’re doing school.
The world has moved forward a lot more quickly than has education. Technology has the power to make our schools more diverse, more effective and more efficient. But, educators need the support to access and effectively incorporate these new tools.
- And can we please fix the funding?
I’m sure you get the fact that not all children in all communities have the same level of need. You also know that education is supposed to be the “great equalizer”. But, how can that be possible when funding schemes continue to perpetuate this massive opportunity gap. We need a funding formula that targets our limited resources to places that need them most.
So, that’s it in a nutshell. I’m not sure you can pull all or any of this off, but please try. And if, like when I was boy, you can’t quite get around to it, please oh please talk to some of your helpers out here in the real world.
Merry Christmas, Santa.
Chris worked as deputy campaign manager and field director for A+ Illinois where he developed a strong, statewide field operation including over 500 organizations and 50,000 individuals around the state working to bring adequacy and equity to Illinois’ school funding system and as the director of advocacy and outreach at New Schools for Chicago, a leader in school reform in Chicago.
Chris is a 2006 graduate of the Ministry Training Institute and holds a degree in civic and political engagement from Northeastern Illinois University.