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The Chicago City Colleges: Why close child development programs when the need is so great?


Expanding access to high quality early childhood education is among the smartest investments that we can make. Research has shown that the early years in a child’s life—when the human brain is forming—represent a critically important window of opportunity to develop a child’s full potential and shape key academic, social, and cognitive skills that determine a child’s success in school and in life.”—-statement from the White House in Washington DC

In a nation with one of the highest child poverty rates in the developed world, the importance of high quality early childhood education cannot be overstated. Yet US early childhood education is underfunded, too expensive for many families and inaccessible in some areas. The program quality is uneven at best and with the average teacher salaryunder $15 an an hour, there is a  high staff turnover at a time when young children need stability in their lives.

US early childhood education policy needs a serious overhaul.

Given these realities, you might think that the Chicago City Colleges would be expanding and improving their training programs for early childhood educators  and deepening connections to the communities they serve.

You would be wrong.

The City Colleges child development consolidation: program cutbacks by another name

During the summer of 2015 Professor Jennifer Alexander, a child development teacher at Daley College and president of the City Colleges Faculty Council, was told through a conference call that all child development programs would be “consolidated” into Truman College in the fall of 2016. The colleges affected would be Olive-Harvey and Kennedy-King on the South Side, Malcolm X on the Near West Side, Daley on the Southwest Side and Harold Washington in the Loop.

Truman is on the North Side of the city.

It was clear that “consolidation” was Orwellian language for closing popular community-based programs that were preparing students for child development careers while raising the standard for early childhood education in Chicago.

The closings plan was part of a much larger project which the City Colleges administration calls “reinvention”. Reinvention is backed by powerful corporate interests who seek to remake the City Colleges into specialty trade schools to become an “ economic engine” to meet “the demands of employers and transfer universities” and ensure that   “curriculum is relevant to real-world expectations.”

Ominously, the demands that people make on employers and universities do not merit even a mention in this reinvention of the City Colleges: demands such as living wage from employers and an end to crushing student debt from universities.  And reinvention downplays or ignores such concepts as critical thinking, creativity, social justice, public interest and a rich well rounded education—- all of which are essential in the “real-world”.

Faculty questioned the narrow focus of the reinvention plan in a detailed resolution as well as in individual public statements:

“Job training has to be more than students just learning a specific skill that transfers to one employer. It’s up to the faculty to make sure these programs are enriched, not just producing doers, but really great students who are thinkers, problem-solvers and well-read.”——-Christine Aguila, communications professor at Truman College

Protest results in a consolidation postponement until 2018

In the weeks that followed the consolidation announcement , Professor Alexander tried to obtain more details as to the rationale for the drastic cutbacks in the child development programs:

“ As I see it, they are killing vibrant programs that were fully enrolled and even now, they have not been able to provide anything about how this benefits any of the students who are losing their programs. They have not been able to provide any data that they have ever met with community groups or the students. They clearly never met with the Faculty Council.”

Nowhere did the City Colleges leadership explain how closing quality child development education programs will help the children whose needs are so great.

Faced with growing public opposition to the closings which included a petition, a flood of letters from students, a threatened investigation by City Council members, opposition from the College Teachers Faculty Council, opposition from the Cook County College Teachers Union and media attention from the Better Government Association, the City Colleges leadership decided to postpone consolidation until 2018.

But the action was a reprieve, not a reversal of bad policy. The battle is not over yet.

The City Colleges  child development consolidation has eerie similarities to the infamous school closings conducted by the Chicago Public Schools under Barbara Byrd-Bennett and her predecessors 

Like the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) school closings, the child development program closings target largely black and brown neighborhoods. Like the CPS school closings which targeted the idea of the neighborhood school, the City Colleges closings target the whole concept of the community college and its mission to serve the needs of working class students:

“My second year at Daley I found out about child development classes! I was excited and decided to take some of the classes. I love them. I love the way the professors teach their classes and their energy and enthusiasm for helping us out…This summer not only was our tuition raised, but we find out that all of child development classes will now be at Truman. I am mad. I am upset. I am discouraged. Community colleges are meant to be in the community to support us, the students.”—-from a student letter to the Board of Trustees

Professor Jennifer Asimow, who teaches child development at Harold Washington College, called the program closings a plan to create “educational deserts”, essentially disinvestment in communities that need more public investment, not less.

A major issue for child development students is transportation. Many are single moms. Some are just entering the child development field. Others are working in the field but want to advance their careers. To expect them to travel long distances while balancing jobs and children is a sacrifice they should not have to make:

“We as the students should be able to get a degree at our junior college without having to travel to other sides of town. Just take a minute if you will and put yourself in our shoes! How would you feel if people over you all just made a decision without the input of the students! Upset, I’m sure because that’s exactly how we feel. It’s like being in prison with no say so and forced to do whatever you are told. Education is supposed to be about the students and how to help them reach their goals in life, to be all they can be with no distractions or things to turn them away. “ — from a student letter to the Board of Trustees

The proposed long commute will leave little time for human contact with professors or other students, both of which are important in a field like child development where collaboration among educators is critical:

“The setting of the school [Kennedy-King] is so peaceful that even on days that students did not have class, they still came to campus to interact with other students…Being comfortable with your environment and the people around you should be your right, but it seems to be a problem with students being in their comfort zone. I’ve heard multiple conversations saying that the plan is to split students up and change schools around.”—-from a student letter to the Board of Trustees”

The City Colleges plan would create more social isolation and stress in the lives of child development students, most of whom are black and brown working class women. This is physically and psychologically unhealthy for them, as well as detrimental to their education.

Community colleges, like CPS neighborhood schools, are important institutions for maintaining socially healthy neighborhoods.  The consolidation would sabotage that critical role in communities already under siege from disinvestment, racism and economic woes. These communities need more institutional support, not less.

At an October meeting at Daley College, two low level City College administrators met with students fearful of losing the Daley child development program. In an emotional 3 hour confrontation, where student voices were often loud and student tears were shed, students expressed their love for the program; demanded to know why they were not consulted; and made it clear that long transportation times were a barrier to their further education.

Catalyst Magazine looked into the issue in an October 2015 article and reported this:

“City Colleges faculty and educators who work with City Colleges say they fear the early childhood consolidation will trip up South and West Side residents who want to further their education — just as the city is trying to diversify its early childhood educator pipeline with more bilingual teachers and teachers of color who are familiar with their community’s needs.”

Once again, there is a similarity with the CPS school closings which seriously reduced the number of black teachers in elementary and secondary schools. The City College plan would make it even more difficult for bilingual teachers and teachers of color  to enter the early childhood education field. This reeks of the institutional racism that is so pervasive throughout Chicago’s educational systems.

Children need improved early childhood education provided by well educated caring faculties who represent the diversity of the US population.

City Colleges Chancellor Cheryl L. Hyman defended the closings

Chancellor Hyman vigorously defended the program closings by telling the faculty in September that her decision “will not be reversed.” She was also quoted as saying ”Lower-quality education, however close to your home, won’t break the cycle of poverty. The only way we will break the cycle of poverty is to choose quality over proximity.”

She offered no evidence that the existing child development programs were in any way “low quality.” They are indeed, nationally recognized programs. Hyman claimed that the closings were part of “a collaborative effort to review and revise CCC programs.” Yet there is no evidence of any collaboration with students, faculty or communities.

Hyman also said that it was up to the students to make the consolidation work and went on to say,”The world is not coming to any of our doorsteps to give us anything,” cavalierly dismissing the very real concerns of working class students.

Below is what one student had to say about their concerns:

“Childcare is their dream: their passion. To hear officials say that my colleagues aren’t ‘motivated enough’  or aren’t as passionate because they can’t go to Truman is disgusting. This mentality devalues them as human beings who sacrifice on a daily basis to keep a roof over their heads, put food on the table, keep their employment and to even attend classes despite an already busy schedule which may or may not include children of their own and other responsibilities”—- student letter to the Board of Trustees

Ironically, Hyman grew up on the West Side of Chicago and struggled to obtain her own college education. Hyman is a political appointee from the Daley years who worked in the corporate world for Commonwealth Edison. She had no background in higher education at the time of her appointment.  Hyman has been closely allied to Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

She increased the number of administrators and raised their salaries while contracting expensive outside consultants. Unlike her counterpart at CPS, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, there is no evidence that Hyman is personally on the take, but her autocratic administrative methods and her insensitivity to faculty and student needs flow from the same type of corporate thinking that Byrd-Bennett was so addicted to.

The Chicago Public Schools closings were part of a corporate driven educational “reform”. The City Colleges proposed program closings are part of a corporate driven educational “reinvention”. Both are efforts by a wealthy elite to dominate and at least partially privatize public education.

But whatever they are called, these invasions by powerful corporate interests into education policy are destructive to genuine learning and dangerous to democracy itself.

And they are definitely not safe for children.

The City Colleges Reinvention: The stealth privatization of higher education

Shortly before Christmas, Chancellor Hyman sent out a breezy e-mail detailing how the reinvention of the Chicago City Colleges would help students connect with the 600,000 new jobs she claimed would be coming to Chicago over the next 10 years. She ls also claimed that 39,000 new education jobs would be arriving in the same period. But there was a curious omission in her communication. Would all of these jobs be paying a living wage?

According to recent news reports, most new jobs will be paying less than $15 an hour—meaning poverty wages. This is especially relevant to child development workers because  according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median income for preschool teachers is $13.28 per hour.

Reinvention and consolidation also do not mention the desperate shortage of public funding for quality early childhood education, the damage this does to the development of children and how City Colleges graduates should cope with these problems.

Educators living in poverty while struggling at overcrowded underfunded institutions is not the answer to the challenge put forth by the White House to expand access to high quality early childhood education.

The glowing PR around the City Colleges reinvention and consolidation do not mention any of these cold hard “real-world” economic realities.

It is clear that the reinvention and consolidation policies touted by Chancellor Hyman are mostly about providing a cheap submissive labor force to powerful corporations and institutions —-at the taxpayers expense. These are the same wealthy interests who resist paying their fair of taxes necessary to adequately support the City Colleges: necessitating tuition increases, the expanding use of low paid part-time teachers, as well as cutbacks in programs.

It is putting private profit over human needs. It is the invasive privatization and debasement of public education.

What next?

What does this mean for child development students who go into the field because of their love for children, their passion for teaching and their hope of creating a better future for us all?

The actions taken by the students who wrote letters, signed petitions and spoke out at meetings to defend the City Colleges child development classes point to an answer. It is not enough for people to do well in class and graduate. And when people do graduate and find positions as early childhood educators, it is not enough to be good teachers and positive role models for children.

Today, teachers at all levels, from those doing early childhood education to those who occupy full professorships at universities have another responsibility in addition to their teaching: to step out of the comfort zone of the classroom and into militant advocacy of quality education for all.

Fortunately for early childhood educators, there are already unions, professional organizations, child advocacy groups, parent organizations, community alliances, and political lobbying groups who are doing the vital work of raising the quality and extending the availability of early childhood education.

Join one of these groups or start your own. The nation’s children need your advocacy.

“It is…advisable that the teacher should understand, and even be able to criticize, the general principles upon which the whole educational system is formed and administered. He is not like a private soldier in an army, expected merely to obey, or like a cog in a wheel, expected merely to respond to and transmit energy; he must be an intelligent medium of action.”—John Dewey, education philosopher, 1895

Sources Consulted

Interviews with Professor Jennifer Alexander

Letters by students to the Chicago City Colleges Board of Trustees

Reinvention from the Chicago City Colleges website

Reinvention Chapter 2 Foundation for Success by the CCC Office of Research and Evaluation

Faculty Council of the City Colleges of Chicago: Resolution of Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Is City Colleges doing the right thing? by James Ylisea Jr.

In Chicago, Building A Bridge to College by Ronald  Brownstein

The 7 percent solution by  Deanna Isaacs

City Colleges consolidation stirs concern about enrollment in child development programs by Kalyn Belsha

Early Learning: The White House

Preschool Teachers: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Preschool Education Overview: National Education Access Network

Child care workers aren’t paid enough to make ends meet by Elise Gould

Parents’ child-care costs have doubled. But teachers still earn poverty wages: by  Brigid Schulte

U.S. jobs growing, but most will pay $15 or less by Andrew L. Yarrow

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