Saturday, January 23, 2010

Mayoral control in Chicago fails to live up to its hype

The Chicago Tribune reports that mayoral control of Chicago's public schools has failed to improve student achievement:

Six years after Mayor Richard Daley launched a bold initiative to close down and remake failing schools, Renaissance 2010 has done little to improve the educational performance of the city's school system, according to a Tribune analysis of 2009 state test data.

Scores from the elementary schools created under Renaissance 2010 are nearly identical to the city average, and scores at the remade high schools are below the already abysmal city average, the analysis found.

The moribund test scores follow other less than enthusiastic findings about Renaissance 2010 -- that displaced students ended up mostly in other low-performing schools and that mass closings led to youth violence as rival gang members ended up in the same classrooms. Together, they suggest the initiative hasn't lived up to its promise by this, its target year.

The Tribune analysis confirms that mayoral control is not the educational panacea its proponents claim. It will take more to improve academic performance and accountability than a simple change in governance.

Nor has mayoral control in Chicago led to more fiscal accountability.

Tribune's inquiries into the board's spending habits fueled an expensive investigation that reveals Mayor Richard Daley's last two board presidents, Rufus Williams and Michael Scott have used taxpayer credit cards to charge thousands of dollars in meals, travel, gifts and artwork.

Documents obtained by the Tribune listed a $2,500 gift to Mayor Daley's Chicago 2016 Olympic bid committee, despite the mayor's repeated assurances that no public money was going toward financing the bid, and numerous meals at notable Chicago restaurants. Other expenditures included $6,000 in September 2008 with the vendor who supplies food and beverages at Soldier Field; a $650 limousine ride in August 2008; and a $640 tab in January 2009 at Table 52, an acclaimed restaurant on the city's Gold Coast.

These questionable credit card expenditures were in addition to the yearly spending allowance each man received — $19,200 for Williams and $36,000 for Scott in public money. Scott committed suicide while under investigation last year.

The disclosures about the board's spending come at a time when the Chicago district is cutting programs and laying off teachers and staff members. More than a thousand school employees are expected to be out of work by the end of the year, and millions of dollars in programs has been trimmed because of a shortage of money.

The president of the union representing Chicago's teachers, Marilyn Stewart, has also criticized Renaissance 2010:

The experiment of Renaissance 2010 has had more to do with privatization, prime real estate, Olympic dreams and money than it has about really addressing student needs."

In September 2004, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) published an analysis of Renaissance 2010 outlining the potential impact on CPS students and educators. The union raised concerns about a top-down model with no proven data for success. The report exposed the failure of 10 of 14 charter schools enrolling 87 percent of charter students that failed to make adequate yearly progress as required by No Child Left Behind. Our (CTU) calls for accountability, and those from other concerned citizens, were dismissed in the rush to the largely empty promise of Ren 2010.

Education is hard work. And it is especially challenging in impoverished communities. In Chicago mayoral control has not improved student achievement or improved accountability, the alleged goals of Milwaukee's mayoral takeover proposal.

Education is hard work. And it is especially challenging in impoverished communities with significant numbers of costly special education students. The key to providing a quality education and improving academic achievement lies in empowering teachers and other front-line educators, the trained personnel who work directly with children and their families

Unfortunately, the Journal Sentinel editorial board and some mayoral control advocates have begun scapegoating Milwaukee's teachers, suggesting that the growth in their benefits as a percentage of total compensation illustrates the elected school board's inability to govern. Nothing could be further than the truth. This relatively meaningless statistic is simply a reflection of health care costs rising at three times the rate of inflation, something neither a mayor, the teachers or a school board control.

The elements of a successful urban school strategy are known. They include early childhood education, parental involvement, small class sizes, strong, collaborative school leadership, professional development of faculty and staff, equitable funding (fixing Wisconsin's flawed state funding formula), wrap around supportive services and expanding Science Technology and Math Education (STEM) among other things. It requires providing teachers, parents and students with the resources they need to succeed in stable, well equipped class rooms and labs.

These reforms require mayoral support, but, as Chicago demonstrates, not mayoral control.


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