The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
October 11, 2012

What did the Chicago teachers' strike mean for Chicago youth?

October 11, 2012

The six-day Chicago Teacher Union strike ended last month. Some Chicago parents may still remember the last one, which was 25 years ago and lasted 19 days. This recent strike closed down approximately 600 public schools and left 350,000 youth out of the classroom and without full-day formal programming and activities. While the strike effectively advanced an important agenda for the Chicago Teacher Union, it perhaps further handicapped Chicago’s most vulnerable students, those with the least to lose.

The vast majority—nearly 90 percent—of Chicago Public Schools students come from low-income families and 80 percent are African American or Latino. While some youth were able to stay at home or find a safe alternative space to spend time, most students were left without formal activities. And most important, all lost essential learning time in the classroom.

Through our work on the HOST Demonstration (an initiative that uses housing and intensive case management to improve the life chances of vulnerable adults and youth), we learn what life is like for youth growing up in Altgeld Gardens, a remote public housing community on the south side of Chicago. Most of the 429 Altgeld youth engaged with HOST had few good alternatives when the teachers went on strike.

Youth in Altgeld are familiar with conflict, chaos, and violence—especially during the summer months. In focus group discussions this summer, parents and youth spoke candidly about the omnipresent conflict and violence. To be sure, the teacher strike added yet another layer of conflict to these youth’s lives. Fortunately, HOST case managers reported no incidents of youth violence during the teachers’ strike.  However, teachers, school officials, and the city should be aware that their conflicts can come at the expense of vulnerable youth.

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