For school choice, the best publicity ever

Talk about unintended consequences. Has anything ever – ever – generated more positive publicity for school choice than the teachers strike in Chicago? For charter schools especially, the strike is the gift that keeps on giving. They’re open. The traditional public schools are not. Meanwhile, the framing of the strike in the mainstream press dovetails with the parental empowerment rumble from Won’t Back Down. But don’t take my word for it. Check out the ABC News clip above and the snippets below.

New York Times: “Sharonya Simon was looking for a better fit for her son when she pulled him out of a gifted program in a traditional district school five years ago and enrolled him — and later her daughter — in Chicago International Charter School Bucktown, on the Northwest Side. At the neighborhood school, “I did not feel like he was being challenged,” she said during a parents’ meeting at the school on Wednesday. Ms. Simon also said that teachers spent too much time disciplining troubled students, and that many of her son’s classmates came from families with uninterested parents.  At the charter school, she said, “you have a different group because of what we have to go through to get our kids into a charter school. You have more involved parents here.””

Education Week: “Broy (Andrew Broy, the president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools) said his organization has received three times as many inquiries as normal about charter schools from parents and others over the past few months, as news of the impasse between the district and the union has spread. “There’s no doubt that over the past two months there’s been an increase in the amount of interest charters have received,” he said. He suspects that interest has spiked in recent days. “A lot of parents are seeing their neighbors sending their kids to a charter school and are saying, ‘Why are you still in session?'” Broy added.”

Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass: When Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis led her members out on strike this week, she said real school would be closed. “Negotiations have been intense but productive,” she said. “However, we have failed to reach an agreement that will prevent a labor strike. Real school will not be open (Monday).” Real school? You mean that public system where four of 10 students don’t graduate? Since real school wasn’t open, I was compelled to visit an unreal school. A South Side school where 100 percent of the students graduate, and 100 percent are accepted to college. A Roman Catholic all-boys school that draws from poor and working-class neighborhoods, a school where there are no cops or metal detectors, no gang recruitment, no fear.”

Huffington Post: “With the strike having an adverse affects on those students who are already the most disadvantaged, parents are now questioning what they can do to get their children off the streets and back into school. Akers (Beth Akers, fellow in the Brookings Institution’s Brown Center on Education Policy) believes having options in public schools would help these students. “Unfortunately they don’t have a lot of options right now,” Akers said to The Huffington Post. “That’s the issue with k-12 education right now and why we believe in the notion of introducing choice in this market. Right now it’s sort of a monopoly that these teachers are all part of the union and students don’t have the option of selecting into another school.” “

Washington Post Wonkblog: “But the “no excuses” charters that the teachers union (in Chicago) seems to be criticizing do much, much better than typical public schools. Joshua Angrist, Parag Pathak and Christopher Walters at MIT found that students randomly assigned to Massachusetts “no excuses” charters did much better than urban students in noncharters and than nonurban students as well. Will Dobbie and Roland Fryer of Harvard found (pdf) the same thing looking at randomly assigned students in New York City. What’s more, the gains were much greater for poorer and minority students, and Angrist’s team found no evidence that attrition from charter schools (that is, the schools kicking out bad students) had any effect on the results. The idea that this kind of schooling hurts minority students just isn’t supported by the evidence.”

Bloomberg News: “Chicago schools’ union walkout sent the parents of 350,000 students hunting for child care for a third straight day yesterday. Yanira Robles, mother of five, wasn’t one of them. “I feel lucky that they are in a school that is not on strike,” said Robles, 37, whose children attend Esmeralda Santiago Charter School in the Humboldt Park neighborhood. “It was a relief. I want them to be learning.” Santiago is one of about 100 public charter schools remaining open through the third-largest U.S. city’s first strike in 25 years. Serving more than 50,000 students, they employ mostly nonunion teachers — putting them at the heart of the dispute between the Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.”

The Atlantic: “One major difference between the city’s traditional Chicago Public Schools and public charter schools is that CPS teachers are represented by the Chicago Teachers Union. Most of Chicago’s charter teachers are not unionized. That very fact makes charter school officials and proponents see the strike as an opportunity, though most won’t use that word. So far, picketing teachers clad in red t-shirts have been met with honks from cars in every corner of the city. But if the strike, which centers on job security and plans to evaluate teachers based on student performance, keeps students out of school for much longer, there’s a distinct possibility that sympathy could erode and push more interest into the charter movement.”

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BY Ron Matus

Ron Matus is director for policy and public affairs at Step Up for Students and a former editor of redefinED. He joined Step Up in February 2012 after 20 years in journalism, including eight years as an education reporter with the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times). Ron can be reached at or (727) 451-9830. Follow him on Twitter @RonMatus1 and on facebook at


[…] HomeContact UsPrivacy PolicyTerms And Conditions Of Use Positive Publicity From A Negative EventPosted on September 13, 2012 by • 0 CommentsCharter schools in the Chicago are open and operating as normal as the Chicago school system is dealing with a major strike.  Parents of public school students are furious and teachers are striking in the streets.  This has been an extraordinary situation for charter schools nationally and especially for charter schools in the Chicago area.  The following article explains how this negative event is garnering major positive publicity from the likes of the New York Times, Huffington Post etc. For school choice, the best publicity ever | redefinED […]

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