Scott Olson/Getty Images
Scott Olson/Getty Images

In a piece for the Nation, Melissa Harris-Perry worries that what happened in Chicago will repeat itself across the country, and that solutions will come too late for many students.

Rolisa is a married mom with four kids. Two of them are successful graduates of Chicago's public schools — her eldest graduated from college in 2011, and the second is a college junior. Her younger kids are in the fourth and sixth grades at a small public school on the South Side. The class sizes are at the city average, and the test scores are above the state average. Her kids are pretty happy there. Or at least they were, until the standoff between the Chicago Teachers Union and Mayor Rahm Emanuel transformed them into students of Rolisa's makeshift kitchen table school.

As the strike loomed, Rolisa secured a curriculum from her kids' teachers, coordinated with other working parents and enlisted her eldest daughter. But even with this preparation, the strike was a harrowing time for her. Rolisa suffers from COPD, a serious breathing condition. As a result, she works from home, which made her impromptu home school possible but not easy …

At press time, the Chicago Teachers Union voted to end the strike, tentatively agreeing to a new contract. Chicago's children will soon be back in class — but the underlying issues are far from resolved. Reformers will continue to push for teacher evaluations based on student test scores; teachers will argue that such assessment tools must account for the poverty, dislocation, violence and incarceration that affect so many of the kids they teach. We can expect what happened in Chicago to repeat itself in other cities.

We may eventually find our way through the fog of the school reform wars, but I'm worried that our solutions will come too late for too many. This generation of children may become hard-working, courageous adults who nonetheless are relegated to life sentences of poverty and underachievement. They are stuck because they were born in a time of war — not just the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, not just the heavily armed wars in their own streets, but the wars between the leaders and teachers who are supposed to have their best interests at heart but who seem willing to allow this generation to be lost.


Read Melissa Harris-Perry's entire piece at the Nation.

The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.

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