Secret [redacted] clout list for Chicago Public Schools

Secret log kept by Arne Duncan’s administration during 2008. It shows who made requests to get kids into the city’s top schools, and where they sought admission.

April 25, 2013

AP/File
File: Education Secretary Arne Duncan at a news conference in Chicago, Nov. 13, 2008. Duncan was Chicago Public Schools chief then. WBEZ gained access to a 'secret log' of school requests kept by Duncan’s CPS administration via FOIA.

This is the “secret log” that Arne Duncan’s administration kept to manage requests by public officials and other connected Chicagoans seeking to get their children into the city’s elite grammar and high schools, many of which admit students only by test score or lottery. Recent figures show that at some of the schools there are 20, 30, or even 50 times more applications than available seats.

In 2010 the Chicago Tribune first reported that Arne Duncan’s office had kept a list of  VIPs seeking favors to get kids into coveted schools, and that it included “25 aldermen, Mayor Richard Daley's office, House Speaker Michael Madigan, his daughter Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, former White House social secretary Desiree Rogers and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun.”

This week, Crain’s is reporting that likely GOP gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner got his daughter clouted in to elite Walter Payton High School, where one in three students come from private grammar schools. One of the entries on this log may be his.

News about the log, plus investigations by the Chicago Public Schools Inspector General and, reportedly, federal investigators, prompted the district under CEO Ron Huberman to implement a centralized admissions system, a tightened principal discretion system and audits that are supposed to flag suspicious admissions.

A top Duncan aide who maintained the list told the Chicago Sun-Times this was not a backdoor way into the city’s most coveted schools. He said many of those requesting assistance didn’t get it.

This is the first time the actual log has been made public. WBEZ obtained the redacted log through an open records request, with assistance from the Illinois Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor. It took nearly a year to obtain.

Names of parents requesting admission for their children are redacted. The only names not redacted are those of elected officials, high-level school or city officials, or other individuals who forwarded requests to Arne Duncan. Requests coming directly from Duncan appear as “AD” on the log. Petitions from Duncan’s wife appear as “KD” on the log.  

CPS secret clout list by Chicago Public Media