Education Questionnaire: Rahm Emanuel

Rahm Emanuel's education platform

Do you want control of the Chicago Public Schools? If so, how should Board of Education members be selected? Should some of them be elected?

I am comfortable with the current responsibilities given to the mayor and the school board.

Do you believe the chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools should be an educator? Why or why not? What are the main qualities you would look for?

I would like to see a leadership team of CPS that includes people who have taught and led in a public school system, and a CEO who both understands how to run a large organization and what actually happens in the classroom.

Should the School Board conduct a national search for a new schools chief?

Yes. If we are going to have the greatest education system in the country, we must draw from the best national talent.

Chicago has the shortest school day among large, urban districts. What would you do about that?

It is unacceptable that a student graduating high school in Chicago has had four years less of classroom instruction time than her counterpart in Houston. Until learning time is extended, particularly for students that need it most, achievement won't dramatically improve.

Chicago's teachers are committed to improving student outcomes and often are employed by CPS in various after school programs throughout the school year. However, the current contract restricts learning time and puts our children and our city at a competitive disadvantage. I will work with the teachers' union to lengthen the learning day and school year because it's the right investment in our children.

Increased learning time will include academic, arts and athletics programs beyond the traditional school day – building on the success of the community school model in place in some Chicago schools – and forging new, creative partnerships with community and civic organizations that extend the school day, week and year. Given the cost-effectiveness of technology, we must also include on-line learning during after school programs.

CPS is looking at another enormous deficit for the 2011-2012 school year – under the teachers union contract, salaries are scheduled to rise another 4 percent, and federal stimulus money will be gone. How do you get out of that mess?

The current budget mess was not caused overnight; it will take creativity and resolve to get out of, with everyone sharing in the sacrifice. I believe that CPS’ focus should be solely on its core education mission, and the administrative and overhead functions must be more efficient. The city and its sister agencies will have to coordinate more closely and effectively to share joint administrative functions and co-deliver services.

I recently announced my plan to ensure accountability in the TIF program that will include closing TIFs that have served their purpose. More than half of the tax dollars siphoned off by TIFs would otherwise go to the public schools. My concerns about diverting money from schools was an important driver in the decision to reform TIFs.

Second, I will focus on partnerships that bring the city and other sister agencies – particularly libraries and the park district – into the school to more effectively co-deliver support services so that CPS can focus on its core educational mission.

Third, we must take the state to task for its role in education funding. The state’s fiscal mess is shortchanging schools across the state needs and the Governor and General Assembly must act to provide adequate assistance to schools. I will lobby Springfield aggressively to secure the funding we deserve.

Fourth, we should move toward a system where good schools have more flexibility over the resources they receive. Providing lump sum – not line item – budgets to successful schools would end the central office’s micromanagement of good teachers and leaders while ensuring every student receives his or her fair share of resources.

Finally, I helped President Obama craft and pass the Recovery Act and the teacher bill so that school districts across the country could continue to do their job amid a significant recession. As the economic downturn continues, I will push for continued federal assistance to ensure that teachers remain in the classroom and our children continue to learn.

Would you support the closing of low-performing and under-enrolled schools? Why or why not?

There are times when drastic measures are needed to ensure our children are getting the education they deserve. Schools that do not deliver for our kids need to be addressed. I believe turnarounds have been an effective way to address some of our chronically failing schools. One school that I have visited – Dodge – had a rate of only 22 percent of students meeting or exceeding standardized test score standards; under new management for seven years, 82 percent of students now meet or exceed standards. These schools, which are run by CPS principals and unionized teachers, have shown the ability to improve outcomes for our children. Like all solutions, there are problems – we must learn from our experiences and improve on our record.

Would you support the continued expansion of charter schools in Chicago? Why or why not?

I am open to any strategy that provides the best educational outcomes for our children while giving teachers the resources they need to succeed in the classroom. I know that charter schools are not a panacea – they act as laboratories to test new learning tools and must be closely monitored to ensure they meet district-wide academic standards and serve children and families in surrounding communities. I am committed to replicating best practices wherever they come from – neighborhood, turnaround or charter school.

Do think it is it too hard to fire bad teachers who have tenure? If so, what do you think should be done about that?

I approach every education decision with one question: how do we better educate our children. We simply cannot afford to leave our children in the hands of bad teachers. I am focused on teacher development and improvement, but we must also have the flexibility to remove the worst teachers and ensure that our children are in classrooms run by effective leaders.

Should seniority govern teacher layoffs? If not, how would you recommend that future layoffs be handled?

In Chicago's schools, layoffs are typically done by seniority. I want to change that policy to ensure that those who are laid off are the least effective teachers, not the most junior. This will require a new teacher evaluation system based on a comprehensive assessment of instructional quality and student performance, not simply results from one annual exam.

In New York and Los Angeles, controversy has erupted over whether teacher evaluations should be made public or shared with parents. Is that a good idea? Would you push to share evaluations with parents in Chicago?

Parents have every right to know how their child’s school and teacher is performing, but there are more constructive ways than to follow the Los Angeles model, which provided haphazard information based on partial evaluations. For example, I have called for parents to receive a report card that grades their child's school, not just their child's work. Every Chicago Public School principal currently receives a report card with a top-level analysis of how their schools are doing and whether they are truly organized for improvement. I want a simplified version of these report cards be shared with parents so that they have the necessary information to participate in their child's education and push for higher standards in their local school. It will include letter grades that rate criteria such as school improvement and organization, school safety, student attendance, staff attendance, graduation rate and entry into post secondary education.

Do schools have a role in stopping youth violence?  If so, what should schools do, and how would you support their efforts?

Most youth violence happens during the hours after school when students are not in school but also not yet home with parents supervision. Combating youth violence by building a strong program of after-school opportunities – whether they be in the arts, athletics or academics – will not only keep kids safe, but have proven to also raise academic achievement. It’s a win-win, and I will work with teachers and non-profit organizations to find a way to build out a robust after-school program.

What would success with your education agenda look like at the end of your first term?

Classroom success in Chicago should be judged on improvement on basic metrics, like student attendance, school completion, and the extent to which our students enter and succeed in post secondary education. I will judge our success not just based on whether Chicago is improving relative to itself, but how Chicago stacks up against cities across the country. This is not about standardized test scores, but about the ability of our children to leave the public schools with the tools they need to excel in higher education and the workforce. Our local economy and global competitiveness require this investment in our children so that they can thrive in higher education and the workforce.