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Gov. Rauner Apologizes For Emails Calling CPS Teachers “Virtually Illiterate”

Gov. Bruce Rauner said comments in an email five years ago calling some CPS teachers “virtually illiterate” were “inaccurate” and “intemperate”.

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After disrupting Governor Rauner’s press conference, Chicago teachers raise books to protest his email remarks that they are “illiterate.”

Katherine Nagasawa

Gov. Bruce Rauner was scheduled to promote two education bills at a press conference Friday morning. Instead, he listened as Chicago Public Schools teachers took turns proving to him they could read.

Emails released this week under court order showed Rauner describing half of city teachers as “virtually illiterate,” according to an investigation by the Chicago Tribune. Rauner sent the emails five years ago as the Chairman of Choose Chicago, a nonprofit marketing the city to tourists.

WBEZ’s Sarah Karp was at a press conference explained what the event means for Rauner’s contentious relationship with educators.

What was going on today?

It was sort of an interesting way that Chicago Public School teachers were showing their distaste at an email that Gov. Bruce Rauner wrote in 2011. He said that half of teachers are “virtually illiterate” and that principals are “incompetent.”

The context of this is that he was writing an email to a bunch of really powerful people, from the mayor to Penny Pritzker. She was a member of the Chicago Board of Education and then became Commerce Secretary. So this a very influential group of people that was getting this email where the governor was basically arguing that the teacher evaluation system should be more based on test scores rather than subjective things like observation.

Gov. Rauner was saying that we shouldn’t trust these principals to give virtually illiterate teachers good evaluations. We [the email recipients] have to look at something objective, like test scores.

Now the teachers were sort of poking fun at the statement by having these books. They were sitting in this press conference reading and got up in a whack-a-mole style. Where one gets up and says something, then another gets up. The books were sort of dense books, like Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools. Their point is ‘Hey, dude, we can read.’

Did the governor actually apologize?

He did. This is what he said:

“I apologize for the statement that I made in that email in 2011. The remarks there are inaccurate and intemperate and I apologize to the teachers and I regret those comments.”

But he does not address Chicago Public School teachers directly. CPS teachers and Gov. Rauner have a very tense relationship. They have no love for him, he has no love for them. He’s very supportive of charter schools where they use non-unionized teachers. So the Chicago Teachers Union has never really been a big fan of Gov. Rauner.

What is the context for these emails? What’s really going on here?

So remember in 2011 when Rauner actually wrote this email he was not a governor. He was just a wealthy businessman. And he was really involved in this organization called the Chicago Public Education Fund. This is an organization where wealthy people give money and they fund education initiatives. They funded the search for Chicago’s chief education officer at one time. So this is a way that rich people have a lot of influence on Chicago Public Schools. And so some would say that this is a outsized influence.

Chicago Public School teachers have been really critical of this organization because there’s no real public input. It’s like, ‘OK, we’re going to fund things. and then these things will end up in schools.’

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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