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Arne Duncan Wanted More Non-democratic, Mayoral Control Over Schools, Nationwide

March 16, 2016

arne duncan 4  Arne Duncan

Not long after President Obama brought former Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Arne Duncan to Washington, DC, to become US Secretary of Education, Duncan spouted out this March 31, 2009, declaration regarding his desire to establish mayoral control over more school systems. As NBC Chicago reports:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Tuesday that mayors should take control of big-city school districts where academic performance is suffering.

Duncan said mayoral control provides the strong leadership and stability needed to overhaul urban schools.

Mayors run the schools in fewer than a dozen big cities; only seven have full control over management and operations. That includes Chicago, where Duncan headed the school system until joining the Obama administration.

Speaking at a forum with mayors and superintendents, Duncan promised to help more mayors take over.

“At the end of my tenure, if only seven mayors are in control, I think I will have failed,” Duncan said.

He offered to do whatever he can to make the case. “I’ll come to your cities,” Duncan said. “I’ll meet with your editorial boards. I’ll talk with your business communities. I will be there.”

To my knowledge, no school system has been placed under mayoral control since Duncan was appointed as US Secretary of Education in December 2008. Certainly there was no rush for US cities to place their education systems under control of a mayor. And though there is a lot more about Duncan to which one might tie failure (not the least of which are his coercive No Child left Behind waivers), let us consider a marvelous irony about mayoral control in Duncan’s own backyard of Chicago, Illinois:

On March 03, 2016, the Illinois House passed a bill to convert CPS’s mayorally-appointed school board into an elected board. The legislation, HB 4268, sponsored by Rep. Richard Markwell (D-Chicago) passed by a vote of 110-4 and is currently in the Senate. From the article:

The bill would partition the city into 20 local districts and a 21st board member would be elected at large as president. Each would serve an initial five-year term if elected on March 20, 2018, then four years each to coincide with municipal elections.

The legislation also addresses a few regular criticisms of the appointed board by pushing at least half of the elected board’s meetings until after hours so working parents and community members can attend.

Some believe that the Senate might not get to act on HB 4268 because of addressing Illinois’ state budget crisis. Still, what is remarkable about HB 4268 are the numerous House sponsors the bill has garnered along the way– 44 co-sponsors in all– and all Democrats– the same party affiliation as Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Duncan praises mayoral-run districts for their top-down control– which logically appeals to a guy who held states ransom via Title I funds connected to his NCLB waivers. From Duncan’s 2009 NBC spiel:

Duncan told The Associated Press that urban schools need someone who is accountable to voters and driving all of a city’s resources behind children.

“Part of the reason urban education has struggled historically is you haven’t had that leadership from the top,” he said.

“Where you’ve seen real progress in the sense of innovation, guess what the common denominator is? Mayoral control,” Duncan said.

I do not know of anyone who would describe what Emanuel has done to CPS as “progress” and certainly not as “innovative.”

Furthermore, Emanuel made sure he was not “accountable to voters” by suppressing evidence of the Laquan McDonald shooting until after his runoff election against Chuy Garcia on April 07, 2015.

As of February 01, 2016, Emanuel’s approval rating hit a record low of 27 percent. As WGN-TV reports:

According to the poll, only 27% of Chicagoans approve of the job he is doing.  41% believe he should resign.  55% would support legislation to allow a Chicago mayor to be recalled.

59% of those surveyed say Emanuel is not honest and trustworthy. 70% believe his administration is not transparent. Only 25% believe Emanuel is in touch with people like them.

The mayor’s slide in the polls has accelerated as the result of his handling of the investigation into the police shooting death of teenager Laquan McDonald.  A police dashcam video that shows McDonald being shot 16 times was not released until last Spring, after Emanuel was re-elected.

58% of the poll respondents believe the mayor was not justified in withholding the release of the video; 74% don’t believe his statements about the shooting.

985 registered Chicago voters were polled between January 20 and January 28.  The poll has a margin of error of 3.2%.

Looks like Emanuel is losing his mayoral control on many fronts.

As for the condition of CPS under his (and his appointed board’s) control, Emanuel is also taking a hit. As HB 4268 co-sponsor Greg Harris (D- Chicago) notes on his web page circa November 2015:

There is only one school district in the State of Illinois that does NOT have an elected school board, and that is the Chicago Public Schools.  Currently all members of the Chicago Board of Education are appointed by Mayor and are not accountable to the parents, students or communities they serve. It is time for a change. That is why I am proud to cosponsor HB 4268 which would change Chicago’s school board from appointees to an elected school board.

We know about the recent pay-to-play scandals rocking CPS. But for our neighborhoods there are so many other reasons that we need to take back control of our schools. We have seen our neighborhood schools losing resources for enrichment programs such as music, art, sports, foreign languages, advanced placement and special education. This year, CPS is proposing over $8.7 million in cuts to schools in our area.

It is also worth noting that at the same time the Board is cutting our schools and asking for a property tax increase, we will be paying $238 million in termination fees to banks and investors to get us out of interest rate swaps and other financial deals that the CPS Board itself instigated.

Harris posted the above appeal right around the time of the CPS scandal related to a federal investigation and guilty plea of former CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Emanuel’s withholding emails related to the incident.

Add to the above the following observations regarding an Emanuel-controlled board by Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) President Karen Lewis in the March 03, 2016, NBC article:

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis has complained for years that the appointed board rarely listens to teachers and families when imposing decisions — or it wouldn’t have closed 50 schools or rubber-stamped a no-bid contract deal that since ousted the CEO and might land her in prison.

“Nearly one year ago, 90 percent of Chicago voters expressed their support for an elected school board, and now, the city’s students and their families are closer to ending the devastation of mayoral control and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s handpicked Board of Education,” Lewis said. “The CTU now calls on the Senate to pass this bill and give the voters what is long overdue — democracy in our education.”

Mayoral control has not worked in Chicago. Whether or not Duncan admits as much in 2016 is irrelevant. He is currently in no position to advocate for mayoral control.

However.

Illinois should stay alert to Duncan’s December 2015 return to Illinois and the possibility of his doing so in order to qualify to run for governor in November 2018.

For now, as of February 2016, Duncan is not in the public eye, though he has signed Creative Artists Agency (CAA) to represent him, as Deadline reports, “in all areas including books and speaking engagements.”

I wonder what Duncan would get CAA or any other agency to market as his USDOE success in a future bid for any political position of note, Illinois governor included.

And I wonder if he plans to write or speak on the glories of mayoral control, especially in Chicago.

Three words:

Litter box liner.

kitty in litter box

______________________________________________________________

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

5 Comments
  1. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    For a brief moment I thought I was reading fiction.
    But that is because you have woven together all of the characters and missteps of people in power and really care-less about students and teachers in Chicago.
    The kitty litter picture is perfect, except that cats are more tidy than the Duncan and Emanuel dumps. (Can’t believe I am writing that!).

    • Zorba permalink

      This is a case of “truth is stranger than fiction.” Unfortunately. And you’re right about cats, Laura.
      We should not be surprised that Arne and Rahm are on the same page about this.

    • Laura, I thought of going more graphic with the kitty poop pic but decided in favor of moderation.🙂

      • Zorba permalink

        LOL! I think we all got the intent, Mercedes.

  2. Dr. Rich Swier permalink

    Great. Posted: http://bit.ly/22mKot0

    Rich

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