Education in Chicago, Today and Tomorrow

"It may be bearable to see the Cubs in last place year after year, but it is not permissible for us to see our teachers in last place year after year."
THE CITY CLUB, YMCA - Farwell Hall • November 12, 1956

Four major problems confront nearly all public school systems in the U.S.A. today — a shortage of classrooms, a shortage of teachers, a shortage of money, and the imposing task of improving the quality of education for all children, of all races, of all capabilities, in all states, and in all economic and social conditions.

Chicago is fortunate indeed at such a time to have a school administration which has been described by Dr. Paul Misner, president of the American Association of School Administrators, as follows:- “In my judgment, no city in the country can top Chicago’s school leadership. ... Chicago’s school program is the boldest, most creative and far-reaching in the country.”

I’d like to take a few minutes today to tell you why I think Dr. Misner is correct in his evaluation of Chicago’s school program.

Let us look, first, at what Chicago has done to meet the shortage of classrooms.

In 1953, your Board of Education constructed or rehabilitated 6,320 classrooms. This represents an expenditure of approximately $10-million.

In 1954, your Board of Education constructed or rehabilitated 14,000 classrooms.

In 1955, we added 7,000 new classrooms.

In 1956, 12,000 new classrooms.

In 1957, we expect to add 16,000 new classrooms.

And, in 1958, 25,000 new classrooms.

This totals 70,000 new classrooms in 6 years.

At minimum figures, this construction program alone represents an expenditure of $106-million. In this figure, I have NOT included any expenditures for the acquisition of land on which to construct school buildings, nor for the maintenance and rehabilitation of existing structures, or the cost of architects, or any other incidental expenses.

The citizens of Chicago have endorsed this building program. First in 1951, the people voted 3 to 1 in favor of a $50-million bond issue to finance school construction. In 1955, a second $50-million bond issue was submitted to the voters, and they approved it by a vote of 6 to 1.

In 1957, it is the intention of your Board of Education to request permission from the Legislature and to submit another request for bond authorization to the voters of the city of Chicago, and we hope that this third request for $50-Million will result in an even greater support from the public.

Despite the urgent necessity of building schools rapidly in order to accommodate the growing numbers of young children, your Board of Education has not been willing to construct unattractive, poorly planned, “cheap” school buildings. We have wasted no money, I hope and believe, and we have gotten the tax payer a dollar’s worth of school construction for every dollar expended.

This has been accomplished in part by the employment of 18 separate and individual architectural firms, in addition to our own Architectural Department. Your Board of Education today is employing Holabird, Root & Burgee; Naess & Murphy; Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; Loebl, Schlossman & Bennett; Perkins and Will, Childs & Smith, and many other architectural firms whose work is known in every state of the Union.

And, most important, I would like to stress that we are getting our buildings constructed today at a square foot cost and cubic foot cost comparable to, or less, than we spent four to five years ago.

I think it can be truthfully stated that no city in America is meeting the shortage of classrooms, which is a nation-wide problem, more fully or more expeditiously than the City of Chicago. This is one reason perhaps why Dr. Misner said that “Chicago’s school program is the boldest, most creative and far-reaching in the country.”

The second crucial problem facing America in education today is the shortage of qualified teachers. No school system is any better than its teachers. In fact, for your child in his classroom on Monday morning, the entire school system is represented by, and summed up in, the personality, abilities, background, devotion and dedication of the one school teacher who stands in his classroom ready to teach the day’s assignment.

So, it is supremely important for every citizen to know what the Board of Education is doing to attract, pay, and retain the best teachers.

First of all, your Board of Education instituted a new Salary Schedule under which all teachers from kindergarten through college receive the same pay for the same educational background and achievement. Thus, a teacher with a Master’s degree giving instruction to the first grade receives the same pay as a teacher of the same seniority with a Master’s degree in one of our junior colleges.

This so-called “Single Salary Schedule” attracts and keeps many teachers, because it gives appropriate recognition to well-trained teachers at ALL levels of the educational program. At this point, it might be well to remember that it is impossible to produce good college students without giving a good high school education; and it is impossible to produce a good high school student without giving a good elementary school education.

In 1952, our elementary school salary ranged from $3,000 to $4,900 per annum; high school teachers from $3,400 to $5,900. In 1956, all our teachers begin with a minimum of $4,000 per annum, and all of them can rise to a maximum of $7,750 solely by continuing their service and acquiring advanced degrees.

This “Single Salary Schedule” ranks 3rd or 4th when compared to the salaries paid in the 16 largest cities of the United States. Earlier this year, our Schedule ranked 1st, along with Los Angeles.

Nothing is more important in my judgment for the future welfare of Chicago than to maintain our city at the top of the teacher salary schedules nation-wide. It may be bearable to see the Cubs in last place year after year, but it is not permissible for us to see our teachers in last place year after year. Were we to follow such a short-sighted policy, penny-wise and dollar foolish, we should end up a generation hence with an ill-prepared labor force, an intellectually impoverished professional group, and possibly a callous, narrow-minded civic and business leadership. It were better for Chicago to be swallowed up in Lake Michigan than willingly and willfully to skimp on teachers’ salaries.

In addition to salaries, however, there are many features which attract and retain able, teaching personnel. For example, we have instituted new personnel policies by which teachers are given greater opportunities to select the schools to which they are assigned.

We have instituted teachers’ “Seminars” before the opening of school, in order to create a “team spirit” among the teachers in each school. We have provided Master Teachers in some of our more difficult schools, whose job it is to help new members of the teaching staff with difficult problems of instruction and discipline.

We have encouraged all our teachers to increase the number of courses they study in the liberal arts and general education, compared to courses in “methodology”. We have instituted teaching by Television, so that the services of a Master Teacher can be made available to thousands of students in our schools, and the techniques of this Master Teacher can be seen and emulated by hundreds of young teachers trying to improve their professional abilities.

Results speak for themselves . . .

In the whole matter of teacher recruitment and retention, I cite only these two statistics:- 19% more applicants have applied to take our teachers’ examinations in the city of Chicago in each year: 1954, and 1955, than applied to take our examinations in years past.

Second, in the last two years, we have witnessed, I think, for the first time in our history, a net increase in the number of teachers staying within our public school system, despite the allurements provided by private industry, retirement benefits, suburban schools, etc.

This may be the second reason why Dr. Paul Misner described Chicago’s public school program as “the boldest, most creative, and far-reaching in the country.”

The third most important problem facing American education has been described as the shortage of money. This so-called money shortage is responsible, at least in part, for the great demand for Federal aid to education. I shall not attempt to discuss such aid as part of this talk to the City Club today; but, I believe the people of Chicago can be proud and happy that the Board of Education has not waited for the Federal Government to do something to help us provide a proper education for our children.

We have not waited for Federal money to build schools; we have not waited for Federal money to pay our teachers; we have not journeyed to Washington looking for a hand-out. Instead, we have built buildings, and we have paid our teachers because we believe that the people of Chicago have wanted a good education for their children now, not 3, 5, or 10 years from now when the heavy machinery of Federal bureaucracy may manage to move off of dead-center.

It is easy, however, to spend money if the people of a community are willing to provide it. I hope we have expended your tax money for school purposes wisely. But over and above our performance in spending, you, as businessmen are entitled to know why so much money is needed, and whether we are saving any money for you, while we are attempting to meet the demands being made on our educational system.

There are three primary reasons why large sums of money are needed:-

First, is the well-known factor of inflation. Increased prices of raw materials means increased prices for school buildings. Inflation means increased salaries for teachers. Inflation also means increased costs for all the maintenance service, janitorial services, administrative services, etc. which support the educational program in our schools.

The second basic reason why the Board of Education has need, and will continue to need, more money is the phenomenal growth in the number of children applying for admission to our schools. It is estimated that the school population of Illinois increases by 60,000 each year. In Chicago, we increase 15,000 each year.

At minimum costs, we would need approximately $5-million per annum just to supply the new classroom seats for these 15,000 additional children per annum. That $5-million would be a capital expenditure, and does not represent any of the increased costs of maintenance services for these additional 15,000 children per annum. Our school population is suffering also from Double-Shift. As of today there are approximately 16,000 children on Double-Shift in Chicago. This means they are receiving half of the educational program to which they are entitled. To remove these 16,000 children from double-shift would cost another or $7-million in capital expenditure alone.

The final point to remember in the growth of our school population is the over-whelming fact that it is growing faster and faster with each passing year. Children already born in the city of Chicago will be applying for admission to our schools at a rate which guarantees no let-up in the growth of our school population for the next 5 years.

The rate at which families are moving into Chicago from other parts of the country further guarantees the fact that our school population will continue to rise for the foreseeable future.

These are the most important reasons why your schools need more money, but I want you to realize that we are saving money at a time we are asking for increased sums.

We are saving money, first, by utilizing every available inch of classroom space in the city of Chicago, Since 1953, we have been able to provide 6,000 additional elementary school accommodations simply by changing some high schools into elementary schools, and thereby utilizing the resources of these high school buildings to meet the tidal-wave of elementary school children, This step alone saved the tax-payers of Chicago approximately $9-million.

Second, we have been investing all available monies to the extent that last year alone we earned, through wise investment practices, more than $463,000 for our public school system.

Through efficiencies in our business administration, we have been able to increase our discounts on bills 28% in the last 2 years.

Third, we have begun to use our buildings during the summertime, so that the number of years some children stay in school has been reduced. This reduction redounds ultimately in a saving for the tax-payers of our city.

Fourth, we have raised tuition which children who do not live in Chicago must pay to attend our schools. In 1955 alone, we raised $530,000 in this manner.

Finally, we have made and are making every proper and reasonable effort to get the State of Illinois to increase its share of the cost of providing a “good common school education” in keeping with the requirements placed upon the state by our Illinois Constitution.

Now, I would like to speak for just a few minutes about the efforts we have made in Chicago to improve the quality of our educational program. This is the fourth major problem confronting every school system in America. It is the most important problem so far as your speaker today is concerned.

We need citizen help and understanding to build the buildings, and raise the money, and pay the salaries — and we have been getting such support. But it is our responsibility to assure, and re-assure, the citizens that they as taxpayers are getting the quality of education for their children which they as parents want and deserve. Your Board of Education has not stood still in its efforts to improve our educational program.

We have started classes for gifted children. Classes in advanced Chemistry and Physics, and in foreign languages are being offered in all of our high schools today. We have introduced the teaching of foreign languages into the elementary schools. 15,000 to 18,000 children are studying French, Spanish and Italian today in the elementary grades. In the summer schools we are providing classes for advanced students in mathematics and the sciences, and we are stimulating superior achievement in honors classes throughout the school year.

The results of these programs are already manifest. Last year, Chicago had as many scholarship winners and award winners in the National Merit Scholarship program as any city of its size in the United States. This scholarship contest, as many of you know, was conducted on a nationwide basis. It played no favorites, and rewarded only the best of our high school students across the U.S.A.

Second, through Television, we are now providing the most skillful teaching to children in all schools. No child will be held back by inferior instruction. We are doing this moreover, with the help of the Ford Foundation so that, once again, the tax-payers of Chicago are paying less than one-fourth of the cost of this teaching by Television. Cities across the country are watching this TV teaching as another example of Chicago’s leadership in educational affairs.

I might also mention at this point that the Ford Foundation grant is the first of its type from a private source ever received by the Chicago Board of Education for educational purposes. Perhaps, this is another reason why Dr. Misner described Chicago’s program as"the boldest, most creative and far-reaching in the country” today.

As a further method of improving our instruction, we have authorized certain district superintendents and principals to create flexible curricula tailor-made for the community where certain schools are located. No longer is it necessary for every school and every child to march lock-step through the same rigid course of studies irrespective of personal ability and interest. Today we are trying to stimulate gifted children, while at the same time providing the special training and vocational education necessary to bring out the best in some of our less gifted children.

We are also trying to reduce the size of the classes, but when you hear that classes are too large in our public school system (the average size today is 38 per class) — I caution you to remember this fact:-

To reduce the class size over the entire city of Chicago by 1 pupil per class would cost $1-million per annum. Thus, to reduce our average class size from 38 pupils to the recommended size of 30 would cost Chicago’s tax-payers a minimum of $8-million per annum. To the real estate men in the audience today, that means 9¢ per every $100 of assessment evaluation in the city of Chicago.

Yet, we can take pride in the fact that the average class size in Chicago in the last 30 years has. been reduced from 44 to 38. This is a further indication of the unselfish devotion to the cause of education which is typical of the people of this great city. Yes, gentlemen, we have many problems in public education today, but Chicago has been meeting problems as great as this throughout its history.

Thirty-five to 40 years ago, there was no vocational education in the city of Chicago. Today, our vocational schools like C.V.S., and the new and fabulous Dunbar, are developing students with skills far greater than their parents ever hoped to attain. They are providing the skilled manpower for the growth of this industrial area.

Thirty-five years ago, gentlemen, there was no special education in Chicago for the deaf, for the blind, for the physically handicapped, for the mentally retarded. Every citizen of this city can take pride in our program of special education, which ranks at the top of ail such programs in the civilized world. No city in the world, to my knowledge, does more for these unfortunate and handicapped members of our society than does this city, where you have the honor and distinction of living.

Some day I hope that each man in this room will visit the Spalding School for Crippled Children, or the new Jane Neil School, and see for yourselves the inspiring work done with your money for the least fortunate in our community.

Yes, we have many problems, but relying on the courage of our citizens, which has enabled Chicago to set standards emulated throughout the world in many areas of educational achievement, I am sure that we can marshall our forces, raise our sights, and produce an educational program in 1957 and 1958 equal to the greatest achievements of the past. With your help, and the help of men in other groups like yours, men devoted to the betterment of our city, and to the maintenance of high standards of honest conduct in municipal government, I am sure our efforts will be successful.

Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.
Sargent Shriver
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