Two Steps Forward, One Back

As Sonia Kwon of the Raise Your Hand coalition recently pointed out, a visit to the Chicago Board of Education is a logistical nightmare for many who wish to make their opinions known about their children’s schools, or about the system in general. The process appears to be set up to frustrate those who are nearly most affected by the Board’s decisions/actions. It downright excludes those who are arguably most affected by its decisions/actions. And the Board’s practice of listening mutely (for the most part) by those who address it is enraging to anyone who has spent any amount of time preparing to address the Board.  

In the face of such apparent indifference–if not callousness–it’s not surprising that many are calling for an elected school board to restore equity and accountability to the stewards of the third largest school district in the country.

But I am not sure that’s really the answer either. WBEZ reported that 359 schools had parent candidate openings and 402 had community candidate openings on March 20th, just three days before the extended filing deadline. That’s a lot of schools–more than 2/3 of the district total–without advocates.

Kenneth K. Wong, a political science professor at Brown University, reported in 2007 that “a typical mayoral election receives a 45 percent to 55 percent voter turnout, which is several times more than a typical nonpartisan school board election.” In fact, he reported that in Chicago, “Between the first LSC election in 1989 and 1993, the last one before mayoral takeover of the district, there was a 68 percent drop in parent turnout.”

In 1993, I was a college freshman in Virginia, and Chicago public school politics did not enter into my consciousness. I’ve no idea what the political and cultural atmosphere of the early 1990s was like in Chicago, let alone how it compares with the current political atmosphere in Chicago.  

As anyone who has ever been “in charge” of anything will tell you, it’s a lot easier to lampoon “leaders” than it is to lead the work yourself. I do not doubt that there is a group of committed people who are willing to do the work themselves, but I’m not sure that that is true for the majority of CPS parents. After all, how many people actually show up to vote for their LSC elections?


I’ve lived in the city for nearly a decade and I have never voted in an LSC election myself. In fact, until recently, I didn’t even know that I could. Given the current interest level in CPS politics and frustrations with the Chicago BoE, it’s entirely possible that individual Chicago citizens care enough about school issues to vote in elections that are little advertised, off-cycle, and decentralized. Are you planning to vote in LSC elections this April 18-19? Will you vote at your neighborhood school(s) or simply the one(s) your child attends?

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