As contract negotiations continue between the Chicago Teachers’ Union (CTU) and the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), one area that is likely to be on the table is the teacher residency requirement. Chicago remains the only city within the nation’s 50 largest school districts to require public school teachers to live in the district where they teach. Since 2000, cities across America have been abolishing their residency requirements for teachers. Chicago needs to follow suit for both our teachers’ and our students’ sake.
When I think about my career and the reasons why I became a teacher, my thoughts center on one person, my 6th through 8th grade English teacher, Mrs. Kittle. In Mrs. Kittle’s class, I diagrammed sentences, compared my father to Atticus in To Kill a Mockingbird, wrote a ten-page research paper on AIDS, and faced my fears of public speaking, all because I had an amazing teacher. And she happened to live outside of my school district.
I grew up in Lockport, a small suburb of Chicago, and have encountered effective teachers who lived in my town and outside of Lockport. I am grateful that my town never had a residency policy because Mrs. Kittle, and countless other great, public school teachers I had during my academic career, didn’t live in the district where they taught. Requiring them to do so would have meant that they went to teach somewhere else.
Across the nation, urban districts have decided that a residency policy is a trend of the past because it limits teacher quality by deterring potential teachers from working where they are needed most. Take Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for example, which terminated its teacher residency requirement in 2013.
Before the decision was made, more than 82% of Milwaukee education students stated that they would prefer to teach in a district without a residency requirement, and 62% were less likely to seek a position in Milwaukee due to the requirement.
Fear of a mass exodus
I have seen this effect first-hand with my college roommate. She was a successful student teacher in Chicago and wanted to continue teaching here, but circumstances led her to live in the suburbs. She was willing to commute but the residency requirement disallowed this. As a result, we lost a great teacher candidate.
The fear, of course, is that there will be a mass exodus from the city by middle-class professionals. This hasn’t happened in Philadelphia, a city that terminated its residency requirement in 2001. When Philadelphia removed its residency requirement, the number of teacher vacancies actually dropped while the number of certified teachers increased. In 2012, two-thirds of the 15,000 public school teachers in Philadelphia still resided in the city.
Chicago’s Board of Education should follow other cities in America and abolish our residency policy. Instead of preventing teachers from leaving, Chicago should provide incentives for residency, to make people want to live in our city. The city could partner with universities to offer teacher residents reduced or free tuition for advanced degrees. Chicago could also offer transit cards much like those given at universities so that teacher residents could ride free. The city could provide property tax subsidies for residents who decide to stay or down payment subsidies for new hires.
We need to give our students and teachers the same opportunities that students and teachers are getting all across our nation. Chicago students deserve to have strong, qualified teachers from all walks of life and from places beyond the city. Chicago public school teachers should be able to live where they want, the same as our colleagues in cities across America. If urban students elsewhere are getting an opportunity of an expanding candidate pool, Chicago should have it as well.
Gina Caneva is an English teacher, instructional leadership team lead, and librarian at Lindblom Math and Science Academy. She is a National Board Certified teacher and Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellowship alum. Gina grew up in Lockport and lives in the Beverly neighborhood in Chicago.