Making Excuses vs. Performing

This week we learned that, after 20 years of education “reform” and passing many tax increases “for the children,” reading scores in Chicago public schools have remained virtually unchanged. No word on math scores, but I’m not holding my breath. And only 6 percent of CPS students graduate from college by the time they are 25. So why is former CPS chief Arne Duncan the federal education secretary, other than the fact that he plays hoops with the president?

The teachers unions in Chicago, which recently squawked about having the school day lengthened from five hours, will probably give two “reasons” for these “disappointing results” (which are actually a continuing disaster for the city and its families):

First, the schools are not receiving enough money. (It is never enough.) And second, many of the kids come from broken and dysfunctional homes, and the teachers cannot do any better under such circumstances. We have all heard these excuses before, and they just don’t cut it. The teachers unions have a virtual monopoly on public education in Chicago, and the system’s poor results must be laid at their feet.

The first excuse–“we don’t have enough money”–is actually an attempt to shift blame from teachers to taxpayers. “If only those stingy taxpayers would give us a little bit more, we could shrink class size, buy more computers, pay good teachers better, etc.” The only problem is, CPS spends about $14,800 per pupil, compared to $9,000 in area private schools. Money is not the problem, except for the fact that much of the alleged “school funding” goes straight into bloated teacher pensions, and not into the classroom at all.

The second excuse, that they are unable to perform the job with which taxpayers have entrusted them, is revealing. The unions say the job is just too hard, that they are doing the best they can under trying circumstances. Now they are shifting the blame to the parents, or to the students themselves.

Well, let’s assume they are right, that they just cannot do it. This does not get them off the hook. Can you imagine walking into your boss’s office and moaning about how impossible your job is and then turning in poor performances month after month and year after year? Your boss, if he is patient, might at first work with you to change your circumstances to help you to succeed in your work. After all, he has a vested interest in you.

But if nothing works, there will come a day when your boss will walk into your office, take your keys, fire you, and tell you he needs someone who can actually do the job. At some point, the bottom line matters.

The Chicago public schools have reached that point. There are others who can and do get the job done every day, without complaining or pointing a finger. Let’s give them a chance. It is time to fire the unions and start over.

About Stan Guthrie

Stan Guthrie is an editor at large for Christianity Today magazine and for the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview. His latest book is God's Story in 66 Verses. He also is author of All that Jesus Asks: How His Questions Can Teach and Transform Us, Missions in the Third Millennium: 21 Key Trends for the 21st Century, and A Concise Guide to Bible Prophecy. He is co-author of The Sacrament of Evangelism. Besides authoring, writing, and editing books, Stan is a literary agent, bringing together good authors, good books, and good publishers. Stan writes the monthly Priorities colum for He has appeared on National Public Radio's €œTell Me More,€ WGN's Milt Rosenberg program, and many Christian shows, including The Eric Metaxas Show and Moody Radio'€™s €œNew Day Florida.€ A licensed minister and an inspirational speaker, he served as moderator for the Christian Book Expo panel discussion, Does the God of Christianity Exist, and What Difference Does It Make?
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