Rahm’s not running—What does that mean for the public schools?

We all got the stunning news yesterday that Rahm Emanuel isn’t running for re-election, and that means there’s going to be a new boss of the Chicago Public Schools in May 2019.  If you’ve read our newsletters over the past eight years, you know that in Chicago, the Mayor oversees the schools, appoints the school board, and selects the CEO of CPS. The primary election is in February 2019 but the next mayoral term doesn’t start until May 2019.

So, what does that mean for those of us who care deeply about strengthening and preserving public education? It means we need to scrutinize candidates’ positions on education policy because a lot could change when a new person takes over. RYH can’t endorse candidates, FYI, but we can tell you what education policies to pay attention to!

As you may know, we have been critical of many of the mayor’s education policies over the years, as they haven’t often aligned with our vision of an education system that is based on high-quality, researched-backed policies, centers on children’s curiosity and creativity, emphasizes collaborative learning environments instead of competition, and provides crucial social-emotional and health supports alongside academics.

We’ve also been critical of how those policies have been decided and rolled out; rather than encouraging debate, engaging families, students, teachers, and communities in a robust process to provide input, and seeking consensus beforehand, the mayor’s office has frequently sought only a post-hoc rubber stamp from the Board for decisions about CPS.

So these are some of the things we’ll be looking out for:

  1. Funding: Budgets are a set of priorities. What are the essentials that have been cut over the years, or were never funded, and how will the next mayor fund these things? Will a candidate end the damaging student-based budgeting (SBB) system? SBB contributes to an accelerated death cycle for schools with decreasing enrollment, distorts hiring practices to favor the least-experienced teachers, and forces schools to eliminate librarians, art, and music to cut costs. And how will the next mayor work to get increased revenue to the schools?
  2. School ratings: Test scores and attendance are the primary factors used to rate elementary schools. These ratings drive a lot of bad practice inside schools. How will the next mayor change this?
  3. Overemphasis on test scores: Linked to above issue. Skill-drill test prep must be replaced with authentic learning environments. This requires time for serious professional development and planning! PD and planning time have been cut dramatically under this mayor to make room for the longer unfunded day. When teachers can’t collaborate, schools can’t improve. Test prep is not a good practice to improve learning.
  4. Privatization: Charter schools have proliferated in areas of declining enrollment, and the mayor accelerated outsourcing of critical positions in the school building. CPS has also engaged in a new partnership with Mark Zuckerberg where private student data will likely be handed over to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative LLC. How will the negative impacts of this be addressed and outsourcing reversed? Is a candidate willing to fight the continuation of IL’s tax credit scholarship program when it is up for renewal in 5 years?
  5. Community: Schools should be community anchors. A number of schools with lottery-based or test-score based admissions have been added to the CPS “portfolio” over the past eight years. How can schools function as community hubs when there are so many barriers to access? How will facilities decisions be made to decrease race and class segregation rather than further entrench it in our divided city?  
  6. Wrap-around supports: CPS ratio of clinicians to students is grossly inadequate. The recommended ratio for students to social workers is 1:250 in districts without high poverty. In CPS the ratio is 1:1250. Will increasing clinician positions be a priority for the next mayor?
  7. Early childhood ed: Rahm announced a new plan recently, but we are hearing from parents that there is a lot of chaos in the current system. We plan to do some listening tours with parents this year to find out what’s going on. Candidates should explain how new preschool programs will be funded and whether expanding services for one age group will mean reduction in services for another.
  8. Special ed: CPS’s deliberate diversion of resources away from special education resulted in the state taking over special ed. How will the next mayor instruct CPS to systemically correct this debacle and to work with the ISBE monitor?
  9. Elected school board: We believe that checks and balances, transparency and accountability are crucial in moving the school system to a better place. We need a Board of Education that’s directly accountable to the public at the ballot box and one whose deliberation of issues doesn’t take place behind closed doors. Where do the candidates stand on a fully elected, representative school board for Chicago?

So there’s a lot of research for everyone to do, and obviously education is only one area to focus on when determining who to vote for. Stay informed, stay involved, go to candidate forums, do your homework!

And attend our annual fundraiser, Raise a Glass for RYH, on October 2 to talk with us about all the important education issues facing our schools!

Happy school year, all.

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