Although he acknowledged that competition is a very effective way of improving the quality of higher education, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley turned aside a query about using vouchers to pressure public elementary and secondary schools to improve, saying the important thing was to focus on improving learning in the system.
Daley was responding to reporters’ questions after delivering the keynote address at a national education conference in Chicago, where he said that providing children with a quality education was the most important responsibility facing the nation.
“The economic future and property tax base of our cities are directly linked to the quality of our education systems,” Daley declared, noting that businesses and families alike were paying very close attention to the progress–or decline–of school systems in their communities.
“All of the companies in your cities and regions are making business decisions today based on the quality of the workforce they’ll need tomorrow,” he told more than 500 education professionals from across the country who attended the April 28-30 conference, “Getting It Done: Meeting the Challenges of Education in America.”
“Depending on the size of your city, there are hundreds, or thousands, or tens of thousands of families with young children–not yet in school–asking themselves whether to stay or move to another community,” Daley warned. Parents today want schools to provide an education that will give their children the opportunity to succeed in a world where “even manufacturing and construction jobs demand a quality education.”
Daley gave credit to the “outstanding job” done by Chicago School Board President Gary Chico and CEO Paul Vallas for finally moving the city’s public schools forward “after years of [the system] failing our children.” While urging those in attendance to embrace the challenge of school reform and to appoint the best people available to achieve success, he warned that Chicago-style reform might not be appropriate for everyone.
“Education is a local issue,” he stressed, “and a one-size-fits-all approach is doomed to fail.”
Among the initiatives that have worked for Chicago, Daley detailed the following:
- Appoint the best people to run the public school system.
- Get the school finances in order and redirect the mission of the bureaucracy.
- Create a better environment for learning with a back-to-basics curriculum.
- End social promotions, which were doing “the greatest disservice to our children by cheating their future.”
- Extend the school day and institute summer catch-up programs.
- Make schools safer, with random metal detector operations and in-school police patrol units.
Beyond current efforts to expand pre-school programs and physically rebuild the city’s schools, Daley’s next major reform effort is focused on teachers. His plan involves recruiting the best and brightest new young teachers, providing opportunities for existing teachers to excel, and using alternate certification to attract qualified professionals to teach in fields where there are currently shortages, such as mathematics and the sciences.