Ward Room
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Why They're Called Lab Scabs

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Why They're Called Lab Scabs

The University of Chicago Laboratory School, a private academy that educates the offspring of Ph.D.s, J.D.s, M.D.s, and even a few successful B.A.s. Its old boys and girls, who include Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens and thrill killer Richard Loeb, are known to each other as “Labbies,” and to students of nearby public schools as “Lab Scabs.”

Tuition at the high school is over $24,000 a year, but that only encourages wealthy parents to send their children to Lab. A bar that high keeps out the riff-raff -- the underclass, the lower class and the middle class -- ensuring that the children of the upper class children only go to school with other children of the upper class. The value of a Lab education isn’t necessarily about academics. Lab doesn’t show up in the Illinois Standard Achievement Test rankings, because. As Valerie Strauss notes in the Washington Post, the school, which was founded on the principles of education reformer John Dewey, “doesn’t obsess on standardized tests.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who strongly supports school reform that centers on standardized test-based accountability for students, schools and teachers, has decided to send his children to a private school that doesn’t obsess on standardized tests.

In fact, the Chicago Lab Schools began cutting some Advanced Placement academic courses — which have an end-of-course exam that can earn a student credit at some colleges with a high score — after a junior in AP U.S. history wrote a column published in the Los Angeles Times in which he declared himself an AP dropout. Why? He wrote: “We don't have time to really learn U.S. history because we're preparing for the exam”

A back-to-school letter to parents last year from high school Principal Matthew Horvat said: “[We] will allow for pursuing topics in far greater depth than they’ve been able to in the past.”

The school has replaced AP offerings in the art, history and science departments with courses created by faculty members called Advanced Topics, which, according to a back-to-school letter to parents last year from high school Principal Matthew Horvat, “will allow for pursuing topics in far greater depth than they’ve been able to in the past.”

Really, do you need test scores to verify the quality of a school that produced Education Secretary Arne Duncan, City Treasurer Stephanie Neely, state lawmakers Kwame Raoul and Barbara Flynn Currie, and Ariel Capital’s John Rogers, a major Obama fundraiser? A school once attended by President Obama’s children, as well as the children of ex-Weatherman William Ayers? Lab is as much about networking and prestige as it about a quality classroom education.

All the abovementioned Labbies are Democrats. It’s no surprise that Mayor Rahm Emanuel is sending his children to Lab. Democratic politicos are just as addicted to money and status as Republican politicos. In fact, since they often begin life with less money than Republicans, they view political office as a vehicle to lift themselves and their families into the aristocracy. And in Chicago, there’s no better way to say you’ve arrived than saying, “The kids are going to Lab.”

Buy this book! Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland's book, Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President , is available Amazon. Young Mr. Obama includes reporting on President Obama's earliest days in the Windy City, covering how a presumptuous young man transformed himself into presidential material. Buy it now!

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