Director of Private School Where Rahm Sends His Kids Opposes Using Testing for Teacher Evaluations

Mike Elk September 11, 2012

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel eschews the city's public schools in favor of the University of Chicago Lab School, whose director eschews Emanuel's idea of "reform."

Unlike occa­sion­al teacher union oppo­nent Sec­re­tary of Edu­ca­tion Arne Dun­can, Chica­go May­or Rahm Emanuel does not send his kids to pub­lic schools. Instead, Emanuel’s chil­dren attend one of the most elite prep schools in Chica­go, the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go Lab School, where the annu­al tuition is more than $20,000. (Emanuel has repeat­ed­ly refused to answer ques­tions about why he eschews pub­lic schools for his chil­dren, telling reporters that it is a pri­vate fam­i­ly deci­sion.)

The con­di­tions at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go Lab Schools are dra­mat­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent than those at Chica­go Pub­lic Schools, which are cur­rent­ly closed with teach­ers engaged in a high-pro­file strike. The Lab School has sev­en full-time art teach­ers to serve a stu­dent pop­u­la­tion of 1,700. By con­trast, only 25% of Chicago’s neigh­bor­hood ele­men­tary schools” have both a full-time art and music instruc­tor. The Lab School has three dif­fer­ent libraries, while 160 Chica­go pub­lic ele­men­tary schools do not have a library.

Phys­i­cal edu­ca­tion, world lan­guages, libraries and the arts are not frills. They are an essen­tial piece of a well-round­ed edu­ca­tion,” wrote Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go Lab School Direc­tor David Mag­ill on the school’s web­site in Feb­ru­ary 2009.

Chica­go Teach­ers Union (CTU) Pres­i­dent Karen Lewis agrees with Mag­ill, and believes what works for May­or Emanuel’s kids should be a pre­scrip­tion for the rest of the city. 

I’m actu­al­ly glad that he did [send his kids to Lab School] because it gave me an oppor­tu­ni­ty to look at how the Lab school func­tions,” Lewis told Chica­go mag­a­zine in Novem­ber 2011. I thought he gave us a won­der­ful path­way to see­ing what a good edu­ca­tion looks like, and I think he’s absolute­ly right, and so we love that mod­el. We would love to see that mod­el throughout.”

One of the key stick­ing points in union nego­ti­a­tions is that Emanuel wants to use stan­dard­ized tests scores to count for 40 per­cent of the basis of teacher eval­u­a­tions. Ear­li­er this year, more than 80 researchers from 16 Chica­go-area uni­ver­si­ties signed an open let­ter to Emanuel, crit­i­ciz­ing the use of stan­dard­ized test scores for this pur­pose. The new eval­u­a­tion sys­tem for teach­ers and prin­ci­pals cen­ters on mis­con­cep­tions about stu­dent growth, with poten­tial­ly neg­a­tive impact on the edu­ca­tion of Chicago’s chil­dren,” they wrote.

CTU claims that near­ly 30% of its mem­bers could be dis­missed with­in one to two years if the pro­posed eval­u­a­tion process is put into effect and has opposed using tests scores as the basis of eval­u­a­tion. They’re joined in their oppo­si­tion to using test­ing in evau­la­tions by Magill.

Writ­ing on the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chicago’s Lab School web­site two years ago, Mag­ill not­ed, Mea­sur­ing out­comes through stan­dard­ized test­ing and refer­ring to those results as the evi­dence of learn­ing and the bot­tom line is, in my opin­ion, mis­guid­ed and, unfor­tu­nate­ly, con­tin­ues to be advo­cat­ed under a new name and sup­port­ed by the cur­rent [Oba­ma] administration.”

While Mag­ill could not be reached for direct com­ment on the specifics of the Chica­go Teach­ers’ strike, his past writ­ings on the school’s site sug­gest he might be supportive.

I shud­der to think of who would be attract­ed to teach in our pub­lic schools with­out unions,” Mag­ill wrote on the school’s web­site in Feb­ru­ary 2009, adding that, even with unions, many teach­ers have had no choice but to take on sec­ond jobs to make ends meet.“

But Mag­ill’s writ­ings also note just how fine a line CTU will have to walk to keep pub­lic sen­ti­ment, which cur­rent­ly sup­ports the strike 47% to 39% accord­ing to one recent poll, on its side. Acknowl­edg­ing the distressing…generational change in the public’s atti­tude toward teach­ers,” Mag­ill writes, Some would say that teach­ers are respon­si­ble for this change by pub­licly par­tic­i­pat­ing in actions designed to bring atten­tion to sub-stan­dard work­ing con­di­tions and com­pen­sa­tion. These actions often cause unin­tend­ed col­lat­er­al dam­age to stu­dents. Par­ents and the pub­lic at large have long mem­o­ries when the edu­ca­tion of their chil­dren is inter­rupt­ed. We must find a way to con­clude col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing with­out rais­ing doubts about the pro­fes­sion­al­ism of those whose work should be val­ued the most.”

Mike Elk wrote for In These Times and its labor blog, Work­ing In These Times, from 2010 to 2014. He is cur­rent­ly a labor reporter at Politico.
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