By almost all measures that count, the children in Chicago’s public schools performed dismally under the Obama administration – almost 70 percent of 11th graders don’t meet academic standards, the dropout rate in nonselective schools hovers around 50 percent, and violence and chaos abound in what should be a sacred learning environment for the nation’s most precious national resource, our children. If the situation were happening in any foreign country, international observers would declare the state of the schools a catastrophic emergency and urge immediate intervention. Sadly, however, this has been the status quo in Chicago and other inner city school systems for over a decade.
Before taking over as mayor of Chicago, President Obama’s handpicked candidate Rahm Emanuel famously remarked (ostensibly with reference to the national economy), “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” Mr. Emanuel’s words provide a deep clue into the Obama administration’s governing philosophy around inner city schools. In referring to finding opportunity in crisis, Mr. Emanuel was paraphrasing free market economist Milton Friedman, who often cited crises as a focusing event that if managed properly could galvanize policymakers into making significant changes to structures and processes. But the Obama administration, having come into office during a proverbial “hundred year storm,” developed a crisis orientation that made them see a crisis around every corner.
Admittedly, Chicago public schools had suffered from underfunding and underperforming long before the Obama administration came to office. Education Secretary Arne Duncan had served as the CEO of Chicago schools amid an epidemic of youth violence that culminated in the infamous beating death of honor roll student Derrion Rice in 2009. Rice was attacked as he walked home from school in a wild gang melee that was partially captured on video by a bystander. Nevertheless, Mr. Duncan – based on what are now understood to be falsely reported school improvement statistics – was touted as a progressive genius and rewarded with his cabinet post at the beginning of the first Obama term.