Just my 2 cents

Issues affecting me and my community

Olga Little

Olga Little
Chicago, Illinois, USA
August 11
Chicago Public Schools
I am a high school English educator; however on most days I feel like an underpaid babysitter. I do like teaching (when I am able to do so) and would love to get additional degrees; nevertheless, I don't want to spend thousands of dollars on degrees and still be unhappy with a flawed system.


JANUARY 25, 2009 11:00AM

What qualifies you to run a school system?

Rate: 8 Flag

For those of you who don't already know it, the former Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO was selected by President Obama to be his Education Secretary.  Well, let me give you a little background information on CPS.  There are over 600 schools in the system with over 400,000 students.    Mayor Richard Daley convinced/coerced/bamboozled the Illinois State Legislature to give him control over CPS.  I think this happened in 1995.  Well, since the Mayor of Chicago has had control, nothing much as changed.  It was his bright idea to have a CEO over the school system.   

Arne Duncan graduated magna cum laude from Harvard in 1987 with a degree in sociology.   In 1992 he was the director of the Ariel Education Initiative which seeks to create outstanding educational opportunities for inner-city children (according to www.cps.k12.il.us).  This site also siad Mr. Duncan joined CPS in 1998 and was appointed to CEO in 2001 by Mayor Daley. 

I don't see any progressive changes that Mr. Duncan has made to the system and I truly believe he was/is not the best person to be the Education Secretary.  I do know a variety of schools closed/restructured and programs were eliminated under his watch.  I think many administrators (who have not taught) think all of these kids are going to go to college.  That is what they are pushing for.  A lot of my students could give a damn about college.  A lot of them don't think they will live beyond 18 or 21.  they are stuck in survival mode.  I don't think these clueless administrators don't realize that these children could/would benefit greatly from vocational training.  Right now there are only a few vocational schools left and the programs are limited. 

Nevertheless, it has been brought to my attention that Mr. Mayor believes he shouldn't promote from within to get the new CEO, but um if Arne Duncan joined the system in 1998, and was appointed to CEO in 2001, he was promoted from within.  Is the Mayor just that stupid to think people won't remember that?  Probably.

I have a few issues and concerns with the Mayor having control over the public school system in Chicago.  First, his children attended private school.  Um, Mr. Mayor, you have a lot of nerve.  I have a BIG issue with the chef not eating his own food but expects others to do so.  It makes no sense to me.  I am a strong supporter of public education.  I attended a public elementary school and high school and I think I turned out just fine.  I send my daughter to public school and I believe she is turning out fine.  How can the public school system ever change when the people who claim to have the children's best interest at heart don't send their children to a public school?

The other issue I have  with the Mayor is he is picking people to run a system and they truly don't have a vested interest in education.  I know people in Chicago have been bamboozled into thinking the quality of education is improving and that may not be totally true.  Some schools are improving while others are not.  Sure the schools with selective enrollment are improving because they can get the cream of the crop.  Just yesterday on the morning news, the Sports Director for CPS was on the news claiming that athletes have better attendance, performance, higher GPA's and fewer discipline referrals.  I know the athletes I have had in my class were the total opposite and they were still allowed on the team.  Where are these people getting their 'facts'? 

So back to the new CEO.  It is rumored that the mayor is looking at the following candidates.  Dr. Barbara Eason-Watkins is the Chief Education Officer for the district and she has been around for years.  The mayor's spokeswoman said she would not call Dr. Watkins a front-runner for this position.  Now, I am bit baffled by this.  Here you have someone who knows the system but you wouldn't consider her as a front-runner for what reason?  Some man who used to run the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services will run the system until a replacement is chosen.

M. Hill Hammock is the Chief Administrative Officer, but had a career as a top banker and Chief Operating Officer of LaSalle Bank.  Now will someone please explain to me how running a bank equates to running a school system.  Maybe I am too clueless to see the correlation.  I think we are comparing apples to bananas. 

Then there is Ron Huberman.  He is now over the Chicago Transit Authority (the public bus system) and if I am not mistaken they just went to Washington D.C. to beg for money.  (Like on Wednesday of the past week.)  Prior to that he was over the Office of Emergency Management.  The only thing I am confident about this man could probably do is provide the schools with a great emergency evacuation plan. 

I am not sure how Mayor Daley selects these people and what his rationale is, but I think he should really consider someone who knows about education and truly have the students best interest at heart.  The Chicago Public Schools system is looking more like 1949 instead of 2009.  The schools are still separate and unequal and nothing is being done to try and correct it.  I keep going back to the top officials not sending their children to public schools.  How can you truly convince me (and others) that you truly want what's best for the children and your kids are receiving the best?  It makes no sense to me. 

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I think it's very shameful that more schools don't offer vocational training. In my high school, there was a cosmotology program as well as auto shop training. At the "medical magnet" school in my town, you could become an EMT or a nurse assistant upon graduation. I think these kinds of programs have the potential to enable many people to work their way through college who other wise could not go, as well as helping people who lack the ability or interest for college.
The threads of politics, unfortunately, affect every fabric of our lives. Duncan may not be the best pick for ES but the Harvard U. connection, if nothing else, reveals a common stitch worth noting.

Given today's state of education, an effective leader must be impassioned about developing a model that implants hope and optimizes the students' potential. In its absence, we'll continue to churn out mediocrity, especially without parental commitment. Regardless of who's at the leadership helm, academic success remains a collective effort. It still takes a village, y'know.
@Erica, my school still offers a few vocational programs, but some of the teachers are so old and out of touch, they don't know what's going on. I know one of the teachers often has the junior and senior students 'teaching' the class. This teacher is also so out of touch with the field, it makes no sense.
@suede, I know it was the school connection and not the qualifications that got Mr. Duncan where he is. It's a shame but that's how it goes. I don't know if anyone noticed that Arne Duncan said he's going to look more closely at No Child Left Behind. Duh, you should have done that when you called yourself running a public school system.
Duncan said what re: "No Child Left Behind?" Please. How right you are!
This is an excellent argument against his appointment and you bring up valid concerns. I wonder if any of them will be addressed? The status quo of schools pushing college for every student is one of my pet peeves. Not everyone wants a desk job. How about we support those who want to be mechanics and carpenters and house painters? Excellent post. Thank you.
Olga: My degree is in Elementary Education because I thought that I really wanted to teach. That was, until I learned how undervalued teachers within our school systems are... and then my career took a very different turn.

My daughter, however, grew up listening to me rant about the inequities in our Education System, and she now holds a Masters Degree in Education from Harvard. Her ultimate career goal would be as Secretary of Education because she truly wants to change the infrastructure of our education process. When she was invited to meet with people in the Bush Administration, she was turned down because she was not a registered Republican. She now has some connections with the incoming administration from her efforts during the campaign ... so we will see.

Proud Papa and Kindred Spirit
I like the second half of your piece, re the ins and outs of Chicago politics and the characters involved very much.

As to Arne Duncan, he along with all of President Obama's new appointees deserves to be cut a little slack. I think Duncan was a "character" appointee as much as anything else -- he has shown a dedication to education, especially inner city education, and especially in Chicago, for most of his life (starting in high school). Like our President, he could have got a plush Wall Street job (after his basketball playing days in Australia were over - bad knees and couldn't jump ;-)) but didn't. He's obviously smart, empathic, experienced, committed and has the President's ear. I'm willing to give him a shot.

WOOF (rated)
@Lisa , I always think about things like that when the push is for college. What happens to the carpenters, painters, plumbers, electricians, etc.? Do we not think those professions are viable? I have a trade and a college degree and I am fortunate to have both.

@Harp, please let me know if your daughter gets in on this education thing because I'd like to give her some of my concerns.

@ Caveat, I hope Arne Duncan does better for the nation than what he did for Chicago. I know a lot of programs were cut under his watch with the hope/intent of students going to college. If I truly believed all of my students would go to college and be successful, I'd be okay with it, but I know that's far from the truth.