Gov. Bruce Rauner offered a “modest proposal” in 2011 to administer the ACT exam to Chicago Public Schools teachers and publish the results by printing average scores, according to a correspondence included in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s trove of recently-released emails.
“Administer the ACT this september, and every other sept thereafter, to all teachers in cps - publish results by printing the avg teacher ACT score for each school,” Rauner wrote before he was elected governor. “Galvanize media and parent conversations about teacher quality/recruiting/training and would lay the groundwork for many of the changes we need to make going forward.”
Rauner’s message, sent in May of 2011, was originally addressed to former CPS Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley and a redacted address. Chicago billionaire Penny Pritzker, who currently serves a U.S. Secretary of Commerce, was also copied on the message.
In response, Cawley called the proposal an “interesting idea,” but noted some potential issues.
“The key would be whether there is a correlation between ACT score (taken now as an adult) and teacher effectiveness,” he wrote. “I don’t know if there would be one or not. Also, we would certainly be ‘training’ teachers to become good at taking that one test (you get what you measure).”
Instead, Cawley recommended using data on student achievement growth, coupled with “systematic observations” to evaluate teachers’ performance.
“Granted, there is much work to do on that front, but don’t you agree it’s worth the effort,” Cawley added. “That would be my focus.”
Rauner responded, pushing to move the school district to a “culture of data and measurement.”
“If we’re afraid to measure/report on our teachers on frequent, standardized basis, we won’t get there for our students either,” he said.
A message from a redacted email account was then sent in early June, responding to Rauner’s proposal.
“I think we all agree that measurement of teacher effectiveness is critical - and being able to appropriately share that info is key,” the messages reads. “But to Tim’s point - we need to be thoughtful about how we measure this - and thorough which instrument. As this type of accountability will be a drastic shift for the system - we need to make sure our first move in this direction is thoughtful - and well communicated.”
“But I don’t mean to suggest that we lose the urgency to establish a culture of data and measurement,” he added. “It is a must.”
In Rauner’s reply, which was originally sent to Cawley, Pritzker, and a redacted address, but was later forwarded to Emanuel, a pair of the his aides, and another redacted account, the businessman continued pushing the agenda.
“ACT is simple, objective, standard for all college bound-kids; its degree of difficulty can’t be manipulated by politicians,” Rauner said.
The Republican claimed that if the city instituted the policy, they could publish scores for both students and teachers, sending “a powerful message to everyone in city that there is a new culture of measurement and accountability in cps.”
“Every principal in the system will immediately begin to think about the talent of their teachers and explore ways to recruit more intelligent, academically accomplished teachers so that their school does not stay at bottom of rankings on teacher test scores - no edicts or directives needed from central office - we can leave it to the media and parents to discuss whether there is or should be a correlation between teachers’ scores and student achievement,” he said.
Rauner also claimed the move would leave parents questioning why certain CPS schools, like Whitney Young and Walter Payton, have higher ACT scores.
“This will lay the groundwork for constant measurement and reporting (like all great organizations do) so that when cps rolls out student growth grades for teachers and schools, the psychological shock will not be as big and we’ll be set for a whole new ballgame,” Rauner added.
That same day, Rauner also forwarded an email thread requesting meetings between CPS, Teach for America, and a group of charter schools and organizations. In the email, Rauner asked Cawley to sit in on the working groups, which were aimed at finding the proper approach to assessing CPS teachers.
“The Rauner’s decades-long philanthropic involvement in reforming and improving Chicago Public Schools is well documented - as Governor, he remains focused on improving the quality of education for all children and expanding high quality school choices for parents,” Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said in a statement. “Since Governor Rauner came into office, Illinois has put record funding into our PK-12 schools and increased early childhood funding by more than $100 million.”
Nevertheless, Rauner has been a vocal advocate for charter schools. Rauner College Prep, a West Town charter, is named after the governor and his wife, Diana. Earlier this month, Rauner backed President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for education secretary, Betsy DeVos. The Michigan billionaire, who contributed the Rauner’s 2014 campaign, has advocated for voucher programs that allow parents to use taxpayer money to pay for private or parochial schools.
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis has called DeVos “a nightmare,” according to the Chicago Tribune.
Lewis has repeatedly clashed with Rauner during his first term in office, even calling him a “new ISIS recruit” in April after the governor slashed millions in funding for the district and other social service groups.