I like Arne Duncan personally and appreciate the fact that he has been trying to lead a large, under-resourced urban school system out of its doldrums for the past seven years. I don’t doubt his commitment to kids and their families. While I would have preferred an educator/reformer like Linda Darling-Hammond, Duncan will make a good Secretary of Education, especially compared with what we've had for the past eight years.
But despite all the understandable hype Duncan is getting ("he personally raised test scores by 40 percent"), any of us who have been around the schools these past few decades know that there’s been some positives and lots of setbacks. Neither are owned exclusively by Duncan.
Mayor Daley runs this school system and Chicago school reform basically moves in tune with the political interests of the Daley machine and the Civic Committee. Those interests include neighborhood gentrification and the privatization and selling-off of public space. State funding is inadequate and discriminatory and hits hardest at districts like Chicago, which is 93 percent black and Latino.
Walk into any of the neighborhood high schools on the city’s south or west side today, which still look and run like 20th-century factories, and you will find basically the same deteriorating conditions, under-staffing and revolving-door leadership you would have seen 20 years ago. While there’s been some great new schools created for the city’s middle and professional class, and lots of good small and charter schools for those who can get in, they have also deepened the divide within this two-tier system and failed to significantly close the so-called “achievement gap,” which is in fact a resource and equity gap.
So despite all the things NOT mentioned in yesterday's hype, despite Chicago’s 52% graduation rate (up a few points since Duncan took over, but still 17th from the bottom among large cities), and despite the data showing that only 6.5% of CPS freshman go on to earn a college degree by the time they are in their mid-20s, and despite four straight years of declining high school test scores, and despite the administration's buy-in to NCLB’s testing madness, and despite the disaster that is Mayor Daley’s Renaissance 2010 school-closing, teacher firing campaign, and despite the epidemic of youth violence and deaths, fueled at least in part by Ren10, and despite the nearly 10,000 kids arrested each year out of their CPS classrooms, and despite CPS’ ongoing efforts to kill the deseg consent decree; despite efforts to weaken or abolish the Local School Councils, despite all this and much, much more, I still wish Arne Duncan all the success in the world in his new job.
I hope he and the whole Obama education team can do what the Bush team couldn’t—lead the way in transforming urban public schools, supporting teachers with adequate resources, and in rebuilding school communities devastated by the current crisis.