Wednesday, June 17, 2015

800 years after Magna Carta, Chicago schools are still ruled by an autocrat

This week we're celebrating the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta which is widely considered the foundation of parliamentary democracy, human rights and the supremacy of the law over autocracy. It established the principle that the monarch is not above the law.

Meanwhile in Chicago, where the public schools have been placed by law under the autocratic rule of one man --the mayor -- there's much being made over questions of who approved the decision to hire now-disgraced CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett back in 2012 and who approved that $20 million no-bid contract to SUPES. Everyone knows the answer to these questions but they are still the topic of the day for federal investigators in the midst of grand jury hearings. It's doubtful that indictments, if any are brought, will reach anywhere near the fifth floor of City Hall.

As Rahm and his predecessor might have put it: "We don't need no stink'n Magna Carta".

The only reason there's even a question, is that mayoral control of the schools, which was intended to bring greater transparency and accountability to a bureaucratic system, brought instead its very opposite. Since CPS was made a wing of City Hall, there has been a cloud of secrecy and a lack of public disclosure with one chief bureaucrat after another, all hand-picked by the mayor himself, being tossed under the bus in order to deflect attention away from the misdeeds and corrupt behavior of the autocrat.

Since the signing of the Magna Carta, democratic revolutions have swept the world clean of many czars and monarchs. But when it comes to urban public education, the trend appears to have been reversed. This was highlighted by Gov. Rauner's recent appointment of state "education czar", Beth Purvis following a Chicago Tribune editorial calling on CPS to put a turnaround expert at the top of the school system, with "Mussolini-like powers to execute and implement."

Duncan pinned his success to mayoral control of schools.
When Arne Duncan was first appointed U.S. Secretary of Education by Pres. Obama back in 2009, he made his number-one priority the expansion of autocratic control of the schools by urban mayors. This was the only way Duncan could forsee his plan for corporate-style, top-down school reform being driven past the resistance of educators, parents and community groups. He argued that the revolving door of urban superintendents was leading to too much instability and churn.

Ironically, mayoral control in Chicago has resulted in 6 school chiefs in six years and greater instability than ever before. Another teachers strike seems almost inevitable.

Duncan proclaimed at the time:
"At the end of my tenure, if only seven mayors are in control, I think I will have failed."
By next year his tenure will have ended, his race-to-the-top and his planned expansion of mayoral control tossed in the waste bin of history. He will, by his own admission, have failed.

By then, hopefully Chicago will have joined with the rest of the state and most of the country in having an elected school board and the spirit of the Magna Carta may have survived yet another test.

1 comment:

  1. Memories: Arne Duncan left his brief gig in Chicago with $50,000 in unused sick days! Vallas and Phil Hansen (former schools chief and chief accounting officer) started Synesi, the father of Supes. Synesi helped close and privatize schools in Cleveland, Detroit and New Orleans. Good old Board of Education. Cannot find an appropriate emoji with which to end this comment.


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