June 10, 1999
Office of the Mayor
City of Chicago
Dear Mr. Clowes:
Your article entitled “Can Mayors Solve School Problems?” in the May 1999 issue [of School Reform News] argues that mayoral takeover cannot bring about significant change in city public schools.
Our experience in Chicago proves otherwise. When I took direct responsibility for the Chicago Public schools in 1995, we adopted “accountability” as our guiding principle. Since then, we have shown that accountability can–and does–lead to academic and fiscal improvements.
Academic gains in Chicago are not “relatively small,” as the article suggests. Test scores have improved an average of ten percent system-wide since 1995. In the last three years alone, high school standardized test scores have increased twelve percent in reading and twenty percent in mathematics. Test scores for grades three through eight have increased six percent in reading and thirteen percent in math since 1996.
My leadership team ended social promotions. Students who underperform now are no longer automatically passed to the next grade. This policy has sent 300,000 students to summer school to bring them up to grade level. Indicators of academic strength such as attendance and graduation rates are also on the rise and are at their highest levels in a decade.
Accountability also established fiscal stability in the system. We eliminated a $1.3 billion deficit, negotiated a four-year contract with the teachers and boosted the system’s credit rating. Buoyed by increased bond ratings, Chicago has been able to allocate almost $2 billion to rebuild our schools.
Contrary to the article’s argument, tuition tax credits are not a better reform than bringing improvement to our public schools. Creating meaningful choices within the public school system is a far better option–and Chicago is committed to reforming public schools rather than ignoring their problems. We now offer a menu of educational opportunities for families. These include: regional gifted centers, magnet schools and program, international baccalaureate programs and the nation’s first multi-disciplinary JROTC public high school. To ensure the highest quality instruction in all of these programs, we have implemented an aggressive teacher recruiting effort.
These initiatives, buttressed by the academic success and financial stability of the Chicago Public Schools, prove that public schools can be viable when everyone is held accountable for their success.
We are dedicated to helping Mayor Archer and others who take on the challenge of reforming their school systems. In 1987, U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett declared Chicago’s public schools the worst in the nation. In 1999 President Clinton called them a national model of reform. Can mayors solve school problems? In Chicago, the evidence proves we can.
Richard M. Daley, Mayor