Duncan’s list and the Chicago Way

As Chicago schools chief, Arne Duncan kept a list of well-connected people who wanted help getting their kids into the city’s top schools. The Chicago way of education — a two-tier system of public schools — starts with Mayor Richard Daley, writes Tribune columnist John Kass.

When first elected in 1989, Daley eagerly reached out to those in the city’s predominantly white professional class. They were edgy and many were considering leaving Chicago.

In response, the mayor built top magnet and college prep high schools, pushing through work-rule changes to attract the best teachers. He produced the schools that nervous white-collar voters demanded.

. . . Daley spent millions upon millions of dollars on new school buildings in low-income neighborhoods. This massive wave of construction endeared him to the predominantly white trade unions: the carpenters, the bricklayers, the electricians who formed his power base on the Far Southwest Side and the southwest suburbs.

Savvy professionals learned how to work the system to get their children into first-tier schools, Kass writes. Low-income, minority students go to second-tier schools where tests scores are low and drop-out rates are high.

Neighborhood activists support the system because they can use local school councils to create “mini-fiefdoms” with “budgets to manage and principals to appoint.”  The public school bureaucracy remains “a patronage base for City Hall and Democratic pols in Springfield, particularly the black legislative caucus.”

So it works great, except for the no-clout kids who are stuck in lousy schools.

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