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A Charter School Students Perspective on the Chicago Teachers Strike It has been widely reported and recognized that

the recent strike by Chicago public school teachers was a public stand against education reform and charter schools. If you want to know what the Chicago Teachers Union was trying to stop, look at me. My name is Omar Lopez and I attended one of the very first charterlike schools in the United States. In fact, it was such a new concept that we didnt even call it a charter school then because there was no charter law in New York. It was a public school started by private citizens named Joe and Carol Reich. The Reiches believed strongly that everyone should have the opportunity to get a great education no matter where they lived, so they choose to open their school in a notoriously poor and underperforming district in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It took them four years to convince the New York City Board of Education to let them open their school and when they finally opened the doors to that first class my class they decided to call the school Beginning With Children. I was accepted at Beginning With Children according to a lottery system and my parents - a teachers assistant and a school bus driver - were thrilled. The risk they were taking putting me in this new school far outweighed what they perceived as the cons of sending me to what they knew was the low-performing and unsafe school in our neighborhood. Beginning With Children was a truly customized learning environment and I developed relationships as a kindergartener that I still have today. The Reiches are still in my life and theyve just written a book about their experience opening their school. My education has truly been a dream. I became a certified English teacher at the College of St. Rose College in Albany, and then went to Harvard for my Masters in education. I decided to devote my career to education reform and I currently work for Democrats for Education Reform, a group whose mission is to encourage a more productive dialogue within the Democratic Party on the need to fundamentally reform American public education. I feel proud to be part of a movement that was so personally important in my life and so vitally important for the country. So when I heard about the teachers strike in Chicago, I joined the Illinois team of Democrats for Education Reform to help make the case to teachers and city officials that the reforms being negotiated needed to be centered around students. As I walked around and talked to teachers on the picket lines, I heard that teachers felt disrespected, which I could empathize with. But I also heard teachers arguing that they should not be held accountable for the progress of students who are coming to them from poor families, families that dont speak English, or with other environmental variables. I dont buy it. These variables should be considered when evaluating a teacher, but not a reason for student outcomes not to be considered.

The fact is that these arguments ring hollow for children. Yes, we have real social and economic problems in America, but we cannot wait for the economy to recover and health care to be universally accessible before we address our uneven, arcane system of education. Every child should have the option to attend a high-quality school. The fact is, we cannot wait to solve poverty before we improve our schools.