What percentage of the 1% send their children to the Chicago Public Schools? I’m guessing it’s about…1%. David Vitale, the former Board of Trade president and current school board president, has a child in the public schools. That qualifies him to represent the 1%’s interest in school reform, which is mainly advocated by people who’ve chosen to educate their children privately -- people like Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel, Paul Ryan and Rupert Murdoch.
One of the two biggest issues in the Chicago Teachers Union strike is the use of test scores to evaluate student performance. According to teachers, that’s an unfair metric, because test scores are influenced by factors outside the classroom: poverty, homelessness, hunger, students’ inability to speak English, the stress of living in high crime neighborhoods. The public schools have to educate whoever walks through the door, which explains why some teachers produce great test scores one year, and lousy scores the next.
According to a study conducted by Washington State University
Poverty appears to play a major role in depressing ACT and SAT test scores. In a paper presented by Donald C. Orlich, professor emeritus at Washington State University, he and his collaborators found a correlation between students’ scores and parental income.
“The .97 correlation is extremely high and illustrates that parental income can account for 80 percent of the variance in those college entry exams. As a child’s parental income goes up, so do the ACT and SAT scores, and vice-versa,” said Orlich.
In the Chicago Public Schools, 82 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunches, which are available to families of four earning less than $41,348 a year. In Illinois, the average income for a family of four is $80,607. That means an overwhelming majority of CPS families would have to double their incomes just to be middle class. This is why the urban public schools are seen a public service for the poor, like public health clinics, or the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program -- two other programs under attack by budget-conscious reformers.
The question is, “Who made the schools that way?” The poor didn’t decide to gather in one place and found a school system just to educate their own children. It worked the other way. Everyone who could afford to get out of the Chicago Public Schools got out, until only the poor were left. The demographics were created by people like Emanuel, whose family moved out to Wilmette for better schools, and who has refused to educate his own children in Chicago; and by Obama, who negotiated tuition at the Lab School as part of his contract to teach at the University of Chicago. Those Chicagoans could have raised the income level of the average CPS family, and, correspondingly, the test scores of the average Chicagoan. But they didn’t, because they could afford otherwise, and now they’re trying to place the onus of low test scores entirely on the teachers.
This month, Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland’s Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President will be available on Kindle for $9.99. Tracing Obama’s career in Chicago from his arrival as a community organizer to his election to the U.S. Senate, Young Mr. Obama tells the story of how a callow, presumptuous young man became a master politician, and of why only Chicago could have produced our first black president.