Tuesday, December 16, 2008

CPS CEO Arne Duncan Obama's Pick for Education Secretary?

I'm not surprised by this, but I'm not too excited. I really wish President-Elect Obama had consulted me before making this pick.

I'm trying to decide if I want to write a longer post about this. Right now class is about to start. I may get back to you. In the meantime, discuss amongst yourselves.

OK, I'm back. Reading the Tribune article has motivated me to write more about this. If I were not a CPS teacher, and had no idea how things worked in Chicago, then I might think Duncan a fine pick for Education Secretary. But I am a CPS teacher and I have a better idea of how things work in Chicago than I'd like, to be honest.

There are some great schools in CPS. The great schools are the ones that only accept the top students in the city. For high school, students have to apply during their 8th grade year and their 7th grade test scores pretty much determine their educational futures in the city. For the students who get into these marquee schools, more power to them.

My school does not attract the top talent in the city. At my school, the average ACT score is a 15. My school was named a "drop out factory" by Johns Hopkins University last summer. Less than half our freshmen graduate high school in four years.

We have no central heat or air. The bathrooms have no ventilation. They usually have no toilet paper, soap, or paper towels, either.

Often we only get a class set of books, so each student has to share. Should a book go missing, well, then someone has to do without.

My students are 90% free or reduced lunch. We have a high homeless student population. Our classrooms are overcrowded, and we still have some classes being taught by subs, because apparently Arne won't let us hire more teachers.

A reference is made to Duncan in the Trib article as believing that education is a civil rights issue. I don't disagree. So how can he reconcile the substandard education so many of the students in CPS are receiving?

Most of my students come to 9th grade with reading scores several years below grade level. Which means students in CPS are being allowed to leave elementary school without the skills they need to succeed in high school.

There is a reference in the Trib article to our graduation rates improving. That's misleading -- CPS sometimes "disenrolls" students who are not succeeding -- if a student is "disenrolled," it's like he or she was never a student at all. That student is not counted as a drop out.

Duncan (and Mayor Daley, who gave him the CEO job in the first place) doesn't seem to be a fan of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). Sometimes I'm not a fan of the CTU, but I still think it has an important function. In the schools that Duncan has championed that are run by private organizations or charters, teachers are not unionized and make a fraction of the salaries paid to unionized teachers in CPS.

Of course salary should not be one's foremost concern in any career, but CPS teachers must live in the city of Chicago, by law. Chicago is an expensive city. The year I taught in a charter school, I took a $10,000 per year pay cut, and my benefits were far more expensive and far less attractive.

I feel I am rambling -- I'm trying to update this between classes. The bell just rang, so I have to get back to work. I hope Duncan is a fantastic Education Secretary -- I hope all my reservations are unfounded. I realize that not all schools have the challenges facing CPS. But our schools aren't that great -- I don't think the man should be that proud of the job that he has done.


Alannah said...

Holy cow. I'm not even joking - but I just came here to specifically ask you what you thought about this choice.

Thanks for reading my mind!

AMY said...

Great minds think alike! I guess I'm ambivalent. The man has never been a teacher. Ever. And most of our schools are not very good. I'd say at least we'll get a new CEO, but the mayor will just pick someone else like Arne, so it won't matter.