Chicago’s Mayor Celebrates Victory Over Teachers Union
Reelected on April 7 to a second term as mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel has another opportunity to reform the dysfunctional Chicago public schools, which were left in shambles by Arne Duncan, the current U.S. Secretary of Education. Emanuel won by a surprisingly close vote of 56% to 44% for his Mexican-born challenger, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who was recruited and supported by the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU).
In Emanuel’s first term, CTU president Karen Lewis launched a series of Alinskyite attacks on the mayor for what she termed his “corporate” agenda that included charter schools, teacher evaluations, and a longer school day. The tough-talking Lewis faced off against the notoriously abrasive Emanuel, who had previously made heads roll as political enforcer for Presidents Clinton and Obama.
Lewis led a two-week teachers strike which delayed the opening of school in September 2012. In 2013, when Emanuel announced the closing of nearly 50 underused, poor-performing neighborhood schools, Lewis instigated a firestorm of opposition and predicted catastrophe for the affected students and their families.
But subsequent studies, including one by the University of Chicago, have shown that displaced students are better off than they were before. Although Chicago’s overall student performance remains abysmal, the transferred students “are doing better academically, attendance rates are up, and rates of misconduct have decreased,” according to district officials. Mayor Emanuel claims the overall high-school graduation rate has risen to 69%, as compared to 58% when Arne Duncan was in charge of Chicago’s public schools.
The Chicago school district pressured parents to move their children to a designated “welcoming school,” but parents were allowed to make the ultimate decision and didn’t always choose the school with the highest academic rating. The researchers noted that “most people don’t just judge schools based on test scores,” but “factors such as location, after-school care, and extracurricular activities” were also important to parents.
The mayor’s opponents want to change the school board from one appointed by the mayor to an elected, representative body. A non-binding referendum to take school board power away from the mayor was passed by voters in over 30 wards in early 2015.
According to a report by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the mayor-appointed “board engaged in questionable financial arrangements and thus was a poor steward of public resources.” On April 17, Mayor Emanuel’s hand-picked school CEO, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, was forced to step down while federal prosecutors investigate a $20.5 million no-bid contract she awarded to her previous employer for “leadership development services.”