Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The mayor's one-sided narratives about CPS progress couldn't save him

Citywide, 45 percent of black students attend Level 1 or 1-plus schools, while 91 percent of white students attend the top rated schools. (Tribune)
Rahm Emanuel may have dropped out of the upcoming mayor's race, but he continues to boast and take credit for the reported bumps in CPS test scores and graduation rates. I think, one of the reasons he dropped out of the race is because his (and CEO Janice Jackson's) one-sided narrative has lost credibility in the media, in the community and with the voters.

Open sessions at CPS board meetings have become a nightmare for the mayor and the board. So much so that they are making it much more difficult for school/community members to participate.

So why the loss of credibility?

First, because neither Jackson nor the mayor can offer any explanation or rationale for the claimed rise or why the mayor and his schools chief deserve credit for the bumps. After all, they reported come despite years of state underfunding of CPS.

Is there some new policy that came from the 5th floor at City Hall or from his hand-picked board that drove test scores up a notch or kept students from dropping out? Rahm may attribute it to "choice". But a closer look should debunk that theory. Thirty years of "choice" (privately-run charters, selective-enrollment schools, and now vouchers) have left us with this  --  45% of black students attending so-called Level 1 or 1-plus schools, while 91% of white students attend the top rated schools.

Also, is the reported bump system-wide? The answer is no. A new CPS report shows, the city's South and West sides have lower concentrations of highest-rated schools than other areas, and black and Latino students attend top schools at far lower rates than their white counterparts.

While at several selective enrollment schools, like Lane Tech on Chicago’s north side, 100% of students are testing at or above standards, at resourced-starved neighborhood schools like Englewood results were much different. At Nicholson Public School for example, only 13.8% of the students at the STEM Academy reached or exceeded math standards. At Auburn Gresham’s Barton Elementary School, 18.1% reached or exceeded standards, and at Dett Elementary near the United Center, just over 15% were meeting standards.

Stats like these leave us wondering if Levels are determined mainly by the color and family income of the attending students or by anything different going on in the classroom? In other words if the 45% and the 91% switched school and teachers, would the Levels travel with them? Or is reform simply another way of reproducing inequality?

Rahm's cheerful narrative omits any mention of the loss of thousands of students from CPS schools, mainly students of color, from low-income families and underserved or closed schools. CPS' own report also makes clear the district, which has seen enrollment dwindling for years, is operating vastly under capacity. There is space for about 150,000 more students in a district that last year had enrollment of about 371,000 in 650 schools. And enrollment is expected to decline by another 5% over the next three years. Could this exodus of poor and black students from CPS account for the reported jump in test scores? Yes, it could and likely did, minus any other credible explanation.

Finally, Rahm's political boasting ignores the continuing stories of widespread sexual abuse and cover-ups and mistreatment of children with disabilities often resulting from privatization of school nurses.  Neither of those things correlate with improved measurable learning outcomes.

I'm not trying to lay all this at Rahm's feet. Selective and political spinning of school data and lack of transparency have long been a central part of the culture of a school system run autocratically by the mayor. For example, the reported cover-up of sexual abuse at CPS goes back the Daley era, when current mayoral candidates Paul Vallas and Gery Chico ran the mayor's school system. 

Now, with Rahm out of the race, it's important that we demand of all potential candidates, an honest, balanced assessment of school progress, a commitment to an elected school board, a cap on charter school expansion, and an end to privatization of essential school functions. If they can't or won't make those commitments, they don't deserve our support. 

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