Sunday, October 6, 2013

A real gem

Have a spare $37,000? 

If you do, the new GEMS World Academy is for you. Making its debut in Chicago's ritzy 42nd ward in time for the 2014 - 15 school year, it will begin with kindergarten (a cool $30,000 a year) and expand into grades 5 through 12 (an even cooler $37,000 a year). The Dubai company has schools throughout the world, and they use their acronym to underscore their worldliness: Global Education Management System. How very...corporate. Just what Chicago needs, another education profiteer swooping in to offer their services. 

The school will be located in The New Eastside neighborhood, home to many luxury high-rises and sleek condos. The residents have asked the city and Board of Education since 1969 for a public elementary school since their only options for public schools are Ogden Elementary and Wells H.S.  Sure, there are charter schools within a few miles, and residents could choose to send their kids the three miles to the academically abysmal Wells. We're guessing parents who pay steep taxes to live in the neighborhood don't want to send their kids to a school where only 2.3% of the students are considered "college ready." Enter: GEMS

Why would GEMS want to open their only U.S. chain store school in Chicago? They helpfully outline in their 2012 pitch to the 42nd ward that:

  • Education is a major topic (armchair punditry alert: it is?!).

  • The location is at the heart of Chicago's business, hotel, and museum districts (you can almost hear the sound of money being stuffed in pockets when you read that).

  • Many single family residences are in the area (the sound of yet more money being stuffed into pockets).

  • They would be in the vicinity of many public and private schools and could forge partnerships (something tells us they won't make their way to Wells to forge anything).

Sounds like these are the same reasons a public school should be opened here. Neighborhood schools, and their teachers, have taken a beating for years. An outstanding neighborhood school could revive and redefine what a neighborhood school means, and maybe let some middle- or working-class students take advantage of a possibly excellent public school might they be in the attendance boundary. Plus, there are the many motivated, supportive parents in the neighborhood who want their taxes going to a neighborhood public school (and not, say, a DePaul basketball arena in the South Loop). There is even a large tax base of business dollars to properly fund the school. Still, the city continues to pass. We can only guess as to why. Is it because it's easier to educate students whose parents are willing to pay upwards of $30,000 so their kids can learn their ABCs? Would any public school opened in that location also take in students whose socio-economic status differs greatly from families who live in The New Eastside, and force something of a real discussion about the gap between wealth and poverty? 

Beyond that, a bigger clue as to why the city is so welcoming to GEMS might be the philosophies of its leaders, who believe:
  • Private school companies shouldn't have to apologize for being for-profit businesses.
  • If fees (charged to parents) are low, there's only so much innovation that can take place. Innovation in some cases meaning astroturf play areas.

  • Teacher salaries should be kept low. 

This sounds like the city's dream partner. Turn a profit, charge exorbitant fees, and lowball the workers. Public schools to be proud of and education as path to leaving poverty behind will have to wait, there's money to be made.

Readers, what do you think, do you want a school like this in your neighborhood? Leave a comment!

1 comment:

  1. This is ALL about Corporate America. Corporate America Rules because it has made us Consumers. Stock holders Rule and want more, more, more. Looking at CHarter Schools:Can someone tell me why people making tons of money { e.i. Gates, Waltons, JP Morgan Chase } want to pay hard working, experienced teachers short money? If they want children learn, why do they hire first-year teachers who work 12 hours a day for their experience, then move on to better paying jobs? This is not good for continuity and curriculum enh6ancement. Why are elected officials obliterating the Public Responsibility to educate its children. Oh, let me guess: There is something in it for them. It must be the truth.