Daley's School Daze
How many times have we heard Mayor Richard Daley say that his oversight of the Chicago Public Schools since 1995 has been his most important responsibility as the city's chief executive. Hizzoner says Chicago's very future hinges on the education of its children and the availability of quality schools to retain families that are the basic building blocks of healthy city neighborhoods.
But the starts, stops and stalls in the effort to improve public education in Chicago must frustrate Daley to no end.
I watched this week as the Mayor delivered the commencement address for 27 eighth graders at the Joseph Stockton Elementary School on the northwest side. Later, it was explained for this reporter that while Stockton had 36 students in the eighth grade at the end of the 2009/2010 academic year, nine children, for a variety of reasons were not allowed to participate in the cap and gown ceremony.
So Stockton's on-time graduation rate this year is 75%.
A 75% graduation rate?
For an elementary school?
Surely, most of the missing nine will attend summer school and get their eighth grade "diplomas" a month or two from now. But when one-fourth of a group of 13-14 year old people don't have it together enough to graduate from elementary school it's evidence that Stockton, and by extension the Chicago Public Schools, have a long way to go to fulfill the mayor's vision.
And if you believe the experts, the chances that more than half the 27 Stockton eighth grade grads will finish high school on time are borderline. Accounting for dropouts, A 2008 study (Cities in Crisis) estimated the CPS graduation rate as low as 51.5%. CPS officials, though, report higher rates in the 60-percentile range and insist that the percentage of students who earn their diplomas on time has improved in recent years.
As for the Mayor, the recession-driven $600 million CPS budget deficit and the prospects of reduced state aid (already slow-arriving) do not bode well for the city's public education system in the near term. This week, the Chicago School Board authorized teacher layoffs and increased class sizes for the 2010/2011 school year.
In his commencement address, Daley was upbeat and optimistic about the future. He smiled as he posed in photographs for each of the 27 Stockton graduates.
But somewhere behind that smile, he has to be worried.