Did Education Secretary Arne Duncan Really Leave Chicago Schools a Mess?

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Tuesday, 11 September 2012 03:35

That might be a good question for reporters to pose to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel given his strong stand against Chicago's public school teachers. (It is appropriate to refer to this as a battle between Emanuel and the teachers. Almost 90 percent of the members of the bargaining unit voted to authorize a strike. This is clearly not a case of a union imposing its will on its members.) Emanuel has insisted that the schools need a major overhaul because they are badly failing Chicago's students.

Emanual's position is striking because Chicago's schools had been run for seven and half years, from June of 2001 until January of 2009, by Arne Duncan. Duncan then went on to become education secretary for President Obama, based on his performance as head of the Chicago public school system. Apparently Emanuel does not believe that Duncan was very successful in improving Chicago's schools since he claims that they are still in very bad shape.

There is no dispute that students in Chicago public schools are not faring well. Only a bit over 60 percent graduate high school in five years or less. However, this doesn't mean that the reforms that Emanuel wants to impose will improve outcomes, just as Duncan's reforms apparently did not have much impact, if Emanuel is to be believed.

Diana Ravitch, a one-time leading school "reformer" and assistant education secretary in the Bush administration, argues that charter schools on average perform no better than the public schools they replace. The main determinants of children's performance continues to be the socioeconomic conditions of their parents. Those unwilling to take the steps necessary to address the latter (e.g. promote full employment) are the ones who do not care about our children.