In an op-ed published Friday in the Washington Post, Mayor Rahm Emanuel made a series of education policy recommendations for President-elect Donald Trump’s incoming administration.
Trump named Betsy DeVos the head of the federal Department of Education last month. DeVos has been a proponent of voucher programs that allow parents to use taxpayer money to pay for private or parochial schools. Devos, whose husband is an heir to the Amway fortune, was a former chair of the Michigan Republican Party.
In the op-ed, Emanuel faulted DeVos for supporting voucher programs and charter schools.
“Promoting choice at the expense of quality isn’t an education strategy, it’s a political agenda,” Emanuel wrote. “Rather, those of us creating education policy need to simply focus on providing the quality choices that students deserve.”
The Democrat pointed to some successful public charter schools in Chicago, like Noble Network and Urban Prep, but claimed students enrolling in neighborhood schools should also be provided with “a high quality education."
Emanuel noted that Chicago Public Schools have found success by lengthening the school day, expanding the school year by 10 days, closing low-performing schools, turning around failing schools and expanding successful education models, like International Baccalaureate and STEM, a curriculum focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
As a result, the mayor said CPS’ graduation rate has grown by roughly 16 percent since 2011, more than three times than the growth in the national rate.
“To continue this progress, those of us on the front lines need partners at the state and federal levels who are focused on quality,” Emanuel wrote. “Previous Republican administrations sounded the alarm on educational quality, prompting renewed focus on stronger accountability. Democratic administrations pushed higher standards.”
Emanuel urged the incoming Trump administration to focus on qualitative choices in a variety of ways.
He urged DeVos and the Trump administration to support principals, who drive schools’ standards and accountability, by creating training pipelines that reward strong performance. The mayor noted that Chicago partnered with a handful of universities to train principals, placing them in year-long fellowships and launching a program to provide them with the freedom to innovate.
Emanuel also pushed for the expansion of early childhood education. Chicago has expanded full-day prekindergarten by more than 60 percent.
“An analysis of CPS programs proved the value, finding that children who attend full-day preschool enter kindergarten twice as likely to read at grade level,” Emanuel wrote. “The Trump administration should make universal full-day prekindergarten a priority and make quality a prerequisite for receiving funding.”
Additionally, Emanuel claimed high school was the “toughest nut for urban school districts to crack,” noting that Chicago has backed charter options in the city, as well as invested in the expansion of magnet, military, IB and STEM schools.
“IB and STEM programs in particular are proven to raise graduation and college enrollment rates for students of all racial and income backgrounds,” Emanuel wrote. “In fact, our IB-enrolled students boast a nearly 100 percent graduation rate, and 81 percent enroll in college, a higher rate than their peers.”
Lastly, Emanuel encouraged DeVos and the Trump administration to promote programs to turn around failing schools.
“Instead of chasing another Washington debate about choice that goes nowhere, let’s work together to help Americans get ahead by investing in better schools regardless of who operates them,” he wrote.
Earlier this month, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis slammed Devos, warning that she would expand on policies that have “been proven not to work,” according to the Chicago Tribune.
“Don’t ask me why he picked her,” Lewis said. “I don't know who put her name on the list, but she’s a nightmare.”
However, Gov. Bruce Rauner praised DeVos earlier this month, calling her “a very talented and very passionate education advocate,” the Chicago Tribune reports.
“I do know Betsy DeVos, I have great respect for her,” Rauner said Thursday. “I think she’s a very talented and very passionate education advocate. And I personally believe in school choice. And I look forward to working together."
The DeVos family, who are among the country’s top Republican donors, contributed $13,000 to the governor’s 2014 campaign, according to the Tribune. That includes a $1,000 donation from DeVos herself.