Diane Ravitch: Two Visions for Chicago’s Schools

Roundup: Historians' Take

Diane Ravitch won the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Prize of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences in 2011 for her “careful use of social science research for the public good.”
 (July 2012)

According to most news reports, the teachers in Chicago are striking because they are lazy and greedy. Or they are striking because of a personality clash between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and union president Karen Lewis. Or because this is the last gasp of a dying union movement. Or because Emanuel wants a longer school day, and the teachers oppose it.

None of this is true. All reports agree that the two sides are close to agreement on compensation issues—it is not money that drove them apart. Last spring the union and the school board agreed to a longer school day, so that is not the issue either. The strike is a clash of two very different visions about what is needed to transform the schools of Chicago—and the nation.

Chicago schools have been a petri dish for school reform for nearly two decades. Beginning in 1995, they came under tight mayor control, and Mayor Richard Daley appointed his budget director, Paul Vallas, to run the schools; Vallas set out to raise test scores, open magnet schools and charter schools, and balance the budget. When Vallas left to run for governor (unsuccessfully), Daley selected another non-educator, Arne Duncan, who was Vallas’s deputy and a strong advocate of charter schools. Vallas had imposed reform after reform, and Duncan added even more. Duncan called his program Renaissance 2010, with the goal of closing low-performing schools and opening one hundred new schools. Since 2009, Duncan has been President Obama’s Education Secretary, where he launched the $5 billion Race to the Top program, which relies heavily on student test scores to evaluate teacher quality, to award merit pay, and to close or reward schools; it also encourages the proliferation of privately managed charter schools....

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