Thursday, May 1, 2014

How far do we still have to go before we really brag about public schools?

Sitting in the City Council chambers Wednesday, it almost seemed as though Mayor Rahm Emanuel should have been waving about a set of pom-pons while wearing a tight sweater emblazoned “CPS.”

As in “Chicago Public Schools.” For Emanuel literally was in a cheerleader-like mode, telling the aldermen how far he thinks the public school system has come during his stint as mayor!

BUT KEEP IN mind that even crummy sports programs have cheerleaders – trying to get crowds worked up over teams that perform mediocrely at best.

And that certainly would be in line with any effort to find reasons to praise the Chicago Public Schools these days.

Now I’m not here to bash the city’s public school system. There are other people who will gladly do that, and I don’t really feel the need to chime in.

It’s just that when the City Council considered a resolution Wednesday that praised the Chicago Public Schools because it is being estimated that 82 percent of its high school senior classes will actually graduate this year, it made me snicker.


Perhaps it is because I know of high school districts in the suburbs that are considered academically challenged that are going to be able to claim that about 90 percent of their seniors will graduate later this month. The quality high school districts are going to be very close to 100 percent.

There’s a sense that a school district getting all worked up over “82 percent” is as pathetic as those Chicago Cubs fans who try to find some great moral victory in the fact that their favorite ball club managed to lose three fewer games than did the Chicago White Sox.

It’s just too much of a stretch to take seriously. The Cubs were as dreadful as the White Sox (Sox fans find shame in the fact that their favorite ball club played down to Cubs-level last year). The Chicago Public Schools still have quite a ways to go before they can brag about system-wide excellence.

ALTHOUGH I CAN kind of comprehend why Emanuel and other Chicago boosters want to get excited about “82 percent.”

On the rise in Chicago?
For as Emanuel himself admitted, this is a public school district that used to only be able to claim about half of its senior class graduating each year.

Such as back in the days when then-President Ronald Reagan’s education secretary, William Bennett, hung the “Worst in the Nation” label on the Chicago Public Schools that the political ideologues still like to use when they want to make partisan attacks.

Of course, I always suspected that if Chicago weren’t so overwhelmingly Democratic when it came to voting, Bennett wouldn’t have been so willing to use the label here. It was part of an effort to take pot shots at public education, perhaps shifting young people to private schools that might accept some of their ideological theories more openly.

BUT BACK TO today, where conditions are improving in the city schools – although the idea that nearly one in five students aren’t able to get that high school diploma is still something that is less than desirable.

It means a large number of future residents whose options in life are going to be so limited that they will be the drag on the society of the future..

It even was encouraging to hear 14th Ward Alderman Edward Burke talk about the day when “100 percent” of Chicago Public Schools graduates will be “college-level and college ready.”

Emanuel talks of that as the city’s ultimate goal. “This is our challenge the city is facing,” he said. “We can actually achieve it.” For all our sakes, let's hope he's correct.

Much more appealing for CPS?
JUST ONE THING. I wish Emanuel could find a more attractive sight for the “rah rah” stuff for Chicago Public Schools.

Perhaps we could dig up the old Honey Bears out of retirement. Even after all these years, the former Chicago Bears cheerleading squad still would look much better than that nauseating image I created of Mayor Rahm in a cheerleader outfit!


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