Rahm Emanuel chose his new school board members from all classes of the upper crust: a university president, an attorney and an heiress were among the appointments he announced Tuesday.
Henry Bienen was president of Northwestern University, Andrea Zopp was general counsel for Exelon, and Penny Pritzker inherited her billions from the Hyatt Hotel fortune. Of the three, only Zopp has any connection to the Chicago Public Schools: her daughter attends a South Side magnet school.
Bienen and Pritzker should be able to raise plenty of money for the schools. As president of Northwestern, Bienen tripled the college’s endowment. And Pritzker led the fund drive that raised $750 million for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.
They’re not surprising choices for Emanuel. He got his start in politics as a fundraiser, and he still seems to believe that money can solve any problem. It’s always solved all his problems. When he wanted financial security to pursue a political career, he got a job that earned him $18 million in two-and-a-half years. When political enemies challenged his residency, he spent $800,000 on lawyers.
But money won’t solve the CPS’s problems as long as the city’s elites have no personal stake in the school system. When Barack Obama was still a young lawyer on the make, he was chosen to lead a project called the Annenberg Challenge, which raised $100 million for the schools. Pritzker was on the board, too. The end result? According to a University of Illinois at Chicago study, “the Challenge had little impact on student incomes.”
When Obama’s daughters reached school age, he didn’t send them to Beulah Shoesmith Elementary School, he sent them to the University of Chicago Laboratory School. Free tuition at Lab was part of his teaching contract with U of C. Chicago’s top politicians disdain the public schools. Mayor Daley and his son attended De La Salle High School. Governor Blagojevich’s daughters go to a private school. Emanuel sent his children to a Jewish day school. Like buying a Harbor Country getaway, it’s just what successful Chicagoans do.
Studies have shown that the number one factor in a school’s success is the educational background and income of the students’ parents. Unless Chicago’s middle and upper classes can be lured back to the CPS, Emanuel’s school reform will be nothing but a Jane Addams do-gooder project -- spending money on poor people you’d never allow your kids to eat lunch with.