I just sent a slightly edited version of this letter to Crain’s Chicago Business in response to an op-ed by Chicago mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel which ran yesterday:
Parents United for Responsible Education is gratified that so many mayoral candidates have declared education to be their number one issue, and pleased that Rahm Emanuel took the time to write an essay about public education for Crain’s.
We agree with him that there is no panacea for the challenges facing our schools, though research definitely supports his emphasis on attracting quality teachers and principals and increasing parent involvement. We also agree that some of the most effective school reform practices can be found right here in Chicago’s public schools. But a closer look at Mr. Emanuel’s ideas raises some concerns.
For example, rather than offer as models the many successful neighborhood schools that have shown steadily improving academic outcomes over the past 20 years, Mr. Emanuel points to a set of turnaround schools, a charter school, and a school that has recently become a gifted center.
Yet what we know about turnarounds and charters is that results are mixed at best and troublesome at worst.
- Some Chicago turnarounds lose a significant percentage of their original student body in their first year of operation; are any subsequent improvements the result of different policies or different students?
- A recent study found that expulsion, attrition, and transfer out rates are greater in Chicago charters than in traditional schools.
- At the gifted school Mr. Emanuel mentions, the percentage of white student enrollment more than doubled between 2007 and 2009, from 22% to 49%, another example of a significantly changed student body.
Mr. Emanuel wants to establish a local version of Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top program in which schools would compete to win local dollars. But as we have seen, Chicago is an uneven playing field. Schools that take on the most challenging students deserve the most support, not more disinvestment and marginalizing.
Finally, Mr. Emanuel recently held a meeting with so-called top city education leaders about his education platform. Attendees were mostly corporate and foundation CEOs. If Mr. Emanuel believes that parents, teachers and principals play a critical role in education reform, why were these groups not represented? We have arguably even more valuable insights into what our schools need, and should be considered the most important school reform partners for anyone who wishes to take on the daunting role of Chicago’s education mayor.
We look forward to hearing more about education from all the candidates in the coming months.