Mayoral Candidate Daley Wants To Merge Chicago Public Schools And City Colleges | WBEZ
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Mayoral Candidate Daley Wants To Merge Chicago Public Schools And City Colleges

Chicago mayoral hopeful Bill Daley has an idea he believes will change the way the city thinks about public education: merge the city’s K-12 and community college systems.

Daley plans to formally announce the idea during a press conference Tuesday morning. Daley is one of nearly 20 candidates jockeying to make their positions known in the crowded field of mayoral hopefuls.

The unusual proposal would combine the two systems, both currently controlled by the mayor, under one CEO and governing board. All Chicago Public Schools graduates could also attend City Colleges of Chicago for free. It appears no other major city has tried this approach.

“We have such pathetic results of kids who go through the system, graduate, don't graduate from college, and may or may not be ready for the jobs that you need to be ready for,” Daley told WBEZ in a phone interview. Daley’s brother Richard M. Daley controlled the schools as mayor until he stepped down in 2011.

Currently, Chicago high school students can take free City College courses for credit through the school district’s dual credit program. CPS graduates with a 3.0 GPA also qualify for free City Colleges tuition as Star Scholars if they attend community college full time. But Daley wants to offer that opportunity to all CPS students.

The University of Chicago Consortium on School Research estimates just 19 percent of CPS students who were freshman in 2017 will earn a four-year degree within ten years.

Daley says today’s students need some kind of degree or certification, citing a Georgetown Center on Economics and the Workforce study that says two-thirds of new jobs will require some post-secondary education. But Daley says not every student needs a bachelor’s degree. 

He says a K-14 education system can shift the mindset of administrators and educators to move the finish line beyond high school graduation and also make sure students are employable and prepared for the workforce or a four-year college.

“My guess is over time that will be the way the young people who enter in [kindergarten] ... will look at it,” Daley said.

City Colleges of Chicago Chancellor Juan Salgado and CPS CEO Janice Jackson have both said the two systems need to be better aligned. And higher education experts say more vulnerable students often fall through the cracks when these two institutions don’t work well together.

Martha Kanter is a former under secretary of education in the Obama Administration and current head of College Promise, a national initiative based in D.C. to increase funding for community colleges nationally. Kanter said merging K-14 could prevent students from getting lost between the two systems and could reduce the number of students graduating high school without college level skills.

But she has concerns about equity.

She said any merger must make sure all high school students have equitable options after graduation, so low-income students who might be more attracted to free community college aren’t funneled into one education system without providing them with equitable opportunities to attend college elsewhere.

“We don't want to repeat the tracking systems of the 20th century,” she said, referring to the practice of sorting students into different programs based on perceived academic ability. “That’s the concern.”

Kanter said including four-year universities more intentionally within a merger could reduce possible inequitable opportunities between students.

As with most campaign ideas, there are still many details to work out, including how to provide free community college tuition for all CPS students. About 20,000 students graduate from Chicago Public Schools each year with a little more than 3,600 graduates enrolled in City Colleges in 2016, according to the most recent data available from CPS. That number is expected to have increased with the growth of the Star Scholarship program.

Meanwhile, other mayoral candidates have started to unveil their education plans. Most candidates have focused on improving Chicago Public Schools rather than City Colleges of Chicago, which saw a large reorganization under Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Under the “Reinvention” initiative, each city college campus was designated with a specific focus such as health care, business or culinary arts.

Many candidates have detailed how to address enrollment decline in CPS, a phenomenon also affecting the city’s community colleges. There’s also been talk of creating an elected school board, rather than an appointed one. Daley said he supports a hybrid board of elected and appointed members. It’s unclear how a board would be created under this proposed merger.

Kate McGee covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @WBEZeducation and @McGeeReports.

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