Save the Schools, Save the City

Published June 1, 1999

We should welcome the fact that the “immune system of the urban public school system is breaking down” because saving public schools is one of the keys to city renewal, said Paul Grogan, vice president of government, community, and public affairs at Harvard University, speaking at the April “Getting it Done” conference in Chicago.

With Mayor Daley listening intently and seeming to approve, Grogan continued: “I believe the public schools can be saved by outside forces putting intolerable pressure on them.” There are three ways of doing this, he said:

  • Give the mayor responsibility for the schools, as has been done in Chicago.
  • Join the privatization movement, as Mayor John Norquist has done in Milwaukee with his support of vouchers.
  • Promote charter schools, which allow “more flexibility within the public system.”

Although less important than reform of the public education system, changes in welfare systems and public housing were reversing the isolation of low-income citizens from the civic life of cities, said Grogan. In addition, he noted, falling crime rates, the revitalization of grassroots groups, and the rebirth of private markets in inner-city neighborhoods were providing hope for the future of cities.