Listen to Hitting Left with guest Matt Farmer

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

UIC study makes compelling case for an elected school board in Chicago

In 2012, 87% of 80,000 Chicago residents voted in 13% of the city’s precincts for an elected school board in a nonbinding referendum. A similar referendum is on the ballot next Tuesday in 37 of Chicago’s 50 wards.
A new study out of UIC's College of Education makes a powerful case for junking mayoral control of Chicago's public schools and replacing Rahm Emanuel's hand-picked school board with a representative, elected board.

Chicago is currently the only district in the state that doesn't elect its school board. In 1995, the state legislature gave then Mayor Daley, full authority over the schools, including the appointment of the board members. But UIC researchers, Pauline Lipman, Eric (Rico) Gutstein, Rhoda Rae Gutierrez, and Tirzah Blanche, find that after two decades of  of mayoral control, the appointed Board’s policies have become increasingly contentious, leading parents, community and education organizations, academics, civil society leaders, politicians, and the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) to call for an elected representative school board.

The study finds that after 20 years of mayoral control in Chicago, the research paints an alarming picture—Board policies and actions have resulted in a school district that is more unequal on nearly every measure leading to the recreation of a "two-tier" school system.

Here's what else it finds:
  • There is no conclusive evidence that mayor-appointed boards are more effective at governing schools or raising student achievement. 
  • The Board prioritized selective programs and schools while neighborhood schools serving low-income students of color lost resources and bore the major impact of misuse of tests to enforce punitive accountability and narrowed curriculum, and to close schools. 
  • Under the mayor-appointed Board, racial disparities in educational outcomes persisted and in some cases widened. 
  • The Board’s policy of closing neighborhood schools has not improved education for the majority of affected students and has had harmful consequences, particularly for African American communities, students, and teachers who were disproportionately impacted. 
  • The Board’s privatization agenda has not generally improved education. Charter and contract schools are on the whole doing no better and are more punitive than neighborhood public schools. Privately operated schools are also further removed from public accountability. However, the Board turned over one-quarter of the district’s schools to private operators. 
  • Chicago’s Board engaged in questionable and risky financial arrangements and was a poor steward of public resources. 
  • Mayoral control and Board structures and processes limit public input and democratic accountability. The Board has been markedly unresponsive to outpourings of public opposition to its policies and essentially indifferent to advice and proposals of parents, teachers, and others with expert knowledge and who have a primary stake in students’ education.
The study makes the case that  an elected board that is representative of the community it serves is no guarantee—but it would be a significant step to strengthen and improve public education in Chicago

Alternatives to closings...For me, one of the most interesting parts of the study, focused on the appointed board's disastrous closing of 50 neighborhood schools. The study points to significant attempts at reform before and after the 1995 take-over that might have posed an alternative to the closings, but were scuttled by the appointed board after Gates and the big Chicago foundations pulled their funding. Among those cited was the Chicago High School Redesign Initiative (CHSRI).
Before CPS embarked on a broad policy of closing neighborhood schools, the district embraced small high schools through CHSRI, creating 23 small, neighborhood high schools between 2002 and 2007. These were not special programs or selective enrollment but whole school initiatives. In August 2008, the Board ended the program with 17 of the original schools still in existence. Yet, a comprehensive 2010 report on CHSRI outcomes found that CHSRI schools offered a promising alternative for low-performing students in the city.
CHSRI was a promising initiative to improve educational opportunities and outcomes inneighborhood public schools open to all students. However, the Board dropped CHSRI and directed resources to closing neighborhood schools, expanding charters, and opening turnaround schools.
The UIC researchers conclude with a question: "The Board’s policies under mayoral control are so educationally insupportable that we are pressed to ask: Whose interests does the Board serve? The majority of CPS students, or political and financial interests?"

The question answers itself.

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