Chicago Educators Speak Out on Obama’s Pick

January 7, 2009 at 10:15 pm Leave a comment

Reuters)

President-elect Barack Obama with his nominee for secretary of education, Arne Duncan. (Photo: Reuters)

posted by Jessica Poser, assistant professor of art education at UIC, Chicago
I am very disappointed in Obama’s pick of Arne Duncan. I feel that this appointment is not only a tragic missed opportunity for substantive change in public education, but an affirmation of what I feel is a disastrous approach to urban education. Giroux and Saltman have eloquently discussed the problems of this appointment in this important thought piece, which I’ve included here as it best represents my thoughts on the issue:  www.truthout.org/121708R

posted by Mary Louise (Molly) Day ’76, Lab School teacher, Chicago
I teach at the U of Chicago Lab Schools where Arne’s wife Karen was a gym teacher for several years. Wonderful woman. She left the school after they got married and started a family. We like Arne here in Chicago. He thinks outside the box as they say and recently supported a school for gay /lesbian and trangendered kids which was not voted in but he was behind it anyway. He attended the Lab School. This is what it says on our school’s webpage (ucls.uchicago.edu):

“President-elect Barack Obama’s recently announced choice for secretary of education, Arne Duncan, is a 1982 graduate of the Schools. Last year the chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools received Lab’s Distinguished Alumni Award. The award, the highest honor for a Lab alum, is given in recognition of a graduate’s outstanding contributions to society through his/her professional or personal life. The recipient is someone who has a reputation that enhances the Schools and who serves as an exemplar to Lab students, alumni, faculty, and friends. We wish him every success.”

posted by Meg Rauen ’06, former Chicago elementary school teacher, NY
I’m disappointed, but not surprised by the appointment of Arne Duncan. I’m concerned about the number of school closings that occurred in Chicago under Arne Duncan’s leadership, as if that, in conjunction with the rapid opening of charter schools, was the solution to the system’s challenges.

posted by Joanne Ruvolo Gannett ’84, Columbia College art history professor, Chicago
I think that Arne Duncan has been an effective leader for education in Chicago and that he’s an excellent choice for the position. Although he has not been in the position of CEO of the CPS here for very many years (only since 2001), he has continued the reforms that were begun by Paul Vallas, who was in the position before him. Chicago has had a complicated political history regarding public education (as one might imagine, I suppose)…

Just some basic history: We passed Chicago School Reform legislation in 1988, which created Local School Councils (a board of 11 members, including 6 parents, all of whom were voted in by the parents and community residents of the school). This measure gave local schools unprecedented control over hiring and policy decisions, including the decision of hiring/firing their own principals. It was really a thrilling idea–to decentralize the schools and allow the stakeholders, essentially, to have input in the decision-making processes within their own schools. Although I believe that, overall, the process has been extremely beneficial for the city schools, not surprisingly, there have been cases of abuses of power (in particular, regarding the firing of principals), etc. Consequently, since the institution of local school reform, there has been a tussle between the idea of local control vs. control from the central Board of Education (which was taken over by the city, i.e., Mayor Daley) in 1995.

I think Arne Duncan’s performance must be looked at in the context of our Chicago school reform history and structure. He was hired by Mayor Daley to oversee the school system. Some think that he has not been as supportive of the Local School Councils as he might have been. But, my opinion is that he has been a strong leader in trying to improve the quality of education for all students in the system. In particular, he has been very proactive in trying to transform the lowest performing city schools, by closing them and re-opening them with new staff and new guidelines. He has overseen the construction of new schools (very much needed in the city) and I believe has also favored the “small-school” concept, where very large high schools (e.g., of 5,000 students) are divided up into smaller schools, all remaining within the original building, but being broken down into smaller bodies, with multiple administrations, so that students would not get lost in the anonymity of one massive school body.

I can also speak from personal experience, as our three kids have gone through the system (the older two through eighth grade and the youngest through high school). My husband and I feel that each of our kids received an excellent education and we are proud of the fact that they were able to do so in the CPS system. Granted, they did attend magnet schools, which were stronger schools even before the school reform legislation was put in place (and were under Arne Duncan’s jurisdiction before he became the CEO of CPS)…I can say that these schools were models of exciting and innovative education, with very diverse populations of students and high academic standards. Each of our schools established a rich environment for learning, with arts programs and technology, etc. In addition, I feel that our kids benefited tremendously from the energy of a culturally diverse big-city population of students. While these schools definitely benefited from the local school council structure (in particular from parental involvement), I do think that Arne Duncan can take some credit, that he understands the particular needs of urban schools and that he has worked really hard in Chicago, in particular, to improve our struggling schools.

Entry filed under: policy, politics, school reform.

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