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CHICAGO—A day after the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), parents and community leaders took Rahm Emanuel to task for misrepresenting his early childhood gains in a political ad, the union today blasted the mayor’s so-called education plan as being equally misleading and deceptive by analyzing the issues the city leader chose not to address during his carefully scripted remarks to education advocates on Thursday, Jan. 8.

In touting Chicago Public Schools (CPS) “gains” during his first term, Mayor Emanuel failed to mention his neglect of the African-American community in the mass closing of 50 schools on the South and West sides of the city; continued charter school proliferation, even amidst scandals in the United Neighborhood Organization and Concept network of schools; the instigation of the first teachers strike in 25 years; and plans for new school construction and expansion concentrated on the North Side of Chicago, which includes a $17 million addition to Walter Payton College Prep and a new, $60 million selective enrollment high school that sends TIF dollars and above average per pupil expenditures into selective enrollment schools to the disadvantage of the vast majority of CPS students, who are almost entirely black, Latino and attend neighborhood schools.

ILLUSTRATION: Democracy“Everything the mayor said yesterday is more about political messaging and election narratives and less about education, because to this administration, the facts are merely accessories,” said CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey. “He can attempt to rewrite history however he chooses for the next seven weeks, but the truth of his public education legacy is what the people of Chicago will remember, and that’s the first teachers strike in 25 years, mass school closings, charter scandals, swap deals that have financially crippled the district, a litany of transgressions uncovered by the inspector general and now a conflict of interest among a member of his handpicked Board.”

Below is a collection of statements (italicized) made by the mayor yesterday, followed by CTU analysis showing the realities of public school education in Chicago—such as disparities in academic outcomes and discipline between black, white and Latino students—and the failure of Emanuel and the Chicago Board of Education to provide the schools Chicago’s students deserve.

“And we’re making sure every student has access to a brighter future. In one telling example, the number of African American students in Advanced Placement classes is up 40 percent over the last four years.”

Even more telling is the systematic disinvestment that has continued to hit our neighborhood high schools, especially high schools on the South and West sides of the city. Walter H. Dyett High School, for example, faced numerous cuts over the years leading up to its closure, and had no resources to offer Advanced Placement (AP) classes in 2011, the year Rahm chose to phase out and shut the school down. It’s no wonder that in 2013, the gap in AP participation between black students and white students in CPS hit an all-time high of 16 percent. The gap in AP participation has also not improved for Hispanic students.

“Test scores for CPS students have continued to climb to record highs – especially in the critical areas of reading and math. In fact, while test scores across the state remained relatively flat last year, Chicago students’ test scores improved much more. Think about what that means: most of the gains in statewide test scores were made by the children of Chicago. That would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.”

A University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR) study in 2011 showed that despite years of past mayoral administrations claiming rising record high test scores, the actual gain was mostly flat dating back two decades. Results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress show a disturbing trend that during Mayor Emanuel’s control of the schools from 2011 to 2013, the gap in 4th grade reading test scores (percentage proficient or above) between black students and white students in CPS grew by nine percentage points to 42 percent, whereas at the state level, the gap shrunk by one percentage point.

Similarly in math, the gap increased in CPS by 12 percentage points, while shrinking at the state level by 2. This news, however, comes as no surprise as CPS stands alone in Illinois for having an unelected school board that continues to expand charter schools and shut down, “turnaround” and under-resourced schools serving black students at a historic and alarming pace.

“We’ve also reduced the number of suspensions and expulsions by 34 percent so we can keep more children in school and learning instead of at home or on the streets.”

The use of in-school suspensions to deal with misconduct has risen across CPS, and the percentage of black students receiving such suspensions has also risen. This is because CPS has now mandated a reduction in out-of-school suspensions and expulsions without addressing the issues that lead to disciplinary problems—and without providing adequate resources for restorative justice programs. Furthermore, out-of-school suspensions still have an extraordinary disparate effect on black students, with 46 percent of misconducts resulting in out-of-school suspension for black students in 2014 compared to 32 percent for white students. CPS has also continued to expand the schools that have had the highest suspension and expulsion rates: charter schools and “turnaround” schools privately managed by the Academy for Urban School Leadership.

Even more outrageous is that charter schools have an expulsion rate that is 11 times greater than their traditional neighborhood school counterparts—the very same charter schools that Emanuel has greatly expanded while he has closed record numbers of neighborhood schools. The vast majority of students expelled and suspended at charter schools are black students, furthering the racial disparities throughout the district.

“It’s also the best way to close the widening inequality gap in our society, where some are doing very well but too many are struggling to reach or stay in the middle-class. More than ever today, you earn what you learn. That division in our society starts in kindergarten, where half of the children in our city used to get only a half-day of school. Now, every child in the City of Chicago attends a full day of kindergarten. And we’re investing more in pre-K, so all children start kindergarten ready to learn.”

With school closures across the South and West sides, parents have to travel farther to access pre-kindergarten (pre-k) programs. Furthermore, the half-day schedules of most pre-k programs make it very difficult for working families to get their children to school. The CCSR found that such obstacles lead to higher absentee rates at the pre-k level for low-income students, and especially for black students, with damaging consequences for the later grades. All children cannot start kindergarten ready to learn if the City of Chicago and CPS do not adequately address the obstacles that working families face.

Mayor Emanuel has also continued to misrepresent (pre-k) gains while ignoring the fact that we have seen a reduction in enrollment of 1,634 children in these programs over the course of his administration. Contrary to the mayor’s claims, of the 37,500 three- and four year-olds enrolled in an early learning program, it is estimated that only 7,100 are enrolled for a full day. The mayor’s policies continue to exacerbate the lack of access to critical services, despite the fact that countless families need and deserve universal, full-day and free pre-k programs.

“Through our Colleges to Careers program, we have turned our City Colleges from teaching students what they should have learned in high school to preparing them for good-paying jobs and good careers.”

Mayor Emanuel has touted improved graduation rates at City Colleges of Chicago (CCC) when in fact, as shown by the Chicago Reporter, two-thirds of the increase in CCC graduation was due to students being moved towards the Associates in General Studies program—a non-transferable, non-occupational degree.

“There are two specific areas that I want to focus on during the next four years. The first is expanding high-quality education choices throughout the city, from pre-k through high school, in every neighborhood school.”

The mayor’s record shows that he has a different plan for Chicago’s two cities. For the advantaged neighborhoods, he has pushed for expanding selective enrollment schools by spending nearly $200 million on just three schools—all downtown and on the Near North side. For the South and West sides, he has pushed school closures, “turnarounds,” and failing charters. He has also presided over a massive reduction in the CPS budget, while lengthening the day and transferring more than $400 million in resources to Bank of America, Loop Capital and Goldman Sachs through toxic swaps. Instead of demanding accountability and repayment, the mayor has pushed forward plans to expand pre-k by doubling the investments of Goldman Sachs rather than investing directly in programs that are proven to work. 

“The second is further empowering principals, teachers and parents to work together to improve their local schools.”

The introduction of student-based budgeting “empowered” our neighborhood schools by stripping them of resources at the very same time that schools were attempting to expand their offerings to make the longer school day a better day. Autonomy means little without adequate resources. The mayor also plans to double down on using autonomy and empowerment to punish and reward schools. He suggests a new version of the Autonomous Management and Performance Schools program (AMPS), which allowed for schools that performed well on test scores to have more autonomy from CPS central office mandates. In the last year of AMPS, black students made up just 18 percent of AMPS schools, although they were 43 percent of the CPS population. On the other hand, 40 percent of all white students in CPS went to an AMPS school.