By Rhoda Rae Gutierrez
“The policies of the appointed Board of Education have exacerbated historical educational inequalities. This presses us to ask: Whose interests does the Board serve?”
Unlike 98 percent of school districts across the country, Chicago has never had an elected board. Recently however, support for an elected representative school board has reached a fever pitch and may have been a deciding factor that forced Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a proponent of mayoral control of public schools, into a historic run-off in April. Ninety percent of voters in 37 wards voted in favor of an elected school board in Chicago. In response to the public debate, the Collaborative for Equity and Justice in Education updated our 2011 report, “Should Chicago Have an Elected Representative School Board?” with more recent academic data and a new review of Chicago Board of Education policies. Our research paints an alarming picture of Board actions that have resulted in a school district that is more unequal on every measure we examined.
In our review of research, we focused on Board policies and actions since 1995, when the state legislature gave Chicago’s mayor full control over the school system. In Chicago Public Schools,91 percent of students are of color and 86 percent come from low income homes. Because the Board’s advancement of equity should be a central measure of its effectiveness, we analyzed the Board’s record from the perspective of equal opportunity to learn and equitable outcomes, specifically in relation to racial disparities. We examined Board policies and initiatives related to high-stakes tests and accountability, selective enrollment schools and programs, school closings, charter and Academy of Urban School Leadership contract schools, distribution of resources, Board efficiency and financial management, teacher turnover, and the Chicago High School Redesign Initiative. This is what we found:
1. There is no conclusive evidence that mayor-appointed boards are more effective at governing schools or raising student achievement.
2. Opportunities to learn have become more unequal as CPS consolidated a two-tier school system by prioritizing selective programs and schools while neighborhood schools serving low-income students of color lost resources and bore the major impact of misuse of tests to enforce punitive accountability and narrowed curriculum, and to close schools.
3. Racial disparities in educational outcomes persisted and in some cases widened.
4. School closings as a policy has not improved education for the majority of affected students and has had harmful consequences, particularly for African American communities.
5. The Board’s privatization agenda has not generally improved education. Charter and contract schools are on the whole doing no better and are more punitive than neighborhood public schools.
6. Chicago’s Board engaged in questionable and risky financial arrangements and was a poor steward of public resources.
7. Mayoral control and Board structures and processes limit public input and democratic accountability.
Despite the Board’s stated goal to “provide a high quality, world-class education,” CEJE found the Board’s policies under mayoral control are educationally insupportable. After 20 years of mayoral control in Chicago, the policies of the appointed Board of Education have exacerbated historical educational inequalities. This presses us to ask: Whose interests does the Board serve?
-Rhoda Rae Gutierrez is the program director of the Collaborative for Equity and Justice in Education and a PhD Policy Studies in Urban Education student.