NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Chicago Mayor Directed To Fix Public Schools

August 19, 1996

Faced with the mess of Chicago's public schools, the Illinois legislature last year gave the city's mayor, Richard M. Daley, sweeping managerial control over the public schools, their unions and their $3 billion budget. It gave him until 1999 to fix the district's problems.

  • In 1992, the Council of Great City Schools ranked Chicago lowest in student achievement among the country's 47 largest school districts.
  • It also ranked Chicago near the bottom in attendance and graduation rates.
  • The dropout rate exceeds 65 percent in some schools and more than half of high school graduates read only at a grade school level.

The new law reorganized management along corporate lines, gave the mayor permission to privatize any function he chooses, gave the city far more control over school finances and barred teachers from striking until the end of 1996. It also removed from teachers' contracts restrictive work rules governing such things as class sizes and schedules.

The mayor's new management team is reported to have found an administrative nightmare when it took over the system from the professional educators -- with no information on how people were being paid or when, how many teaching jobs were vacant, which schools were overcrowded and no plans for repairing the city's many old schools.

  • The mayor's team abolished 1,700 non-teaching staff positions and presented a five-year, $806 million plan to renovate every school.
  • The 17 unions in charge of school repairs were dismissed and the reform board and principals were given authority to contract with outside firms.
  • The mayor is reported to have "terrified (the custodians's union) into compliance" and obtained promises of greater accountability in the future.
  • The reform team is urging failing schools to adopt strict, phonics-based teaching -- amid resistance from some teachers and groups.

School officials say they will be putting some schools on probation when the results of state achievement tests come out. That would allow the central board's Accountability Office to send in a team that effectively takes over the school -- firing the principal and other staff if they deem it necessary.

Source: Julia Vitullo-Martin (The New Democrat), "Mayor Daley's Plan to Fix Chicago Schools," Wall Street Journal, August 19, 1996.


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