CHICAGO – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich’s efforts to bring accountability to Illinois education won key support from Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, who implemented a successful takeover and aggressive reforms of the City’s schools in the mid-1990’s.
“I support the Governor’s proposal,” said Mayor Daley. “Some people believe the current decentralized system keeps politics out of education. In reality, it keeps accountability out of education.”
In 1995, Mayor Daley won support in the legislature for a major re-structuring of the embattled Chicago Public Schools.
“When we began putting together our plan to reform the schools of our state, we looked to Mayor Daley and his decision to take responsibility for the Chicago Public School System,” said Blagojevich. “At that time, then Secretary of Education William Bennett called the Chicago school system the worst in the nation. Schools were failing, buildings were crumbling and no one was accountable for anything.
“Instead of bailing out Chicago’s schools, the General Assembly decided to turn responsibility over to the Mayor. He brought in new resources, new people, new expertise, new accountability, and new enthusiasm. He gave the parents of Chicago hope. And he got results. There is room for improvement. But every day, they get better. Why? Because accountability starts at the top, and it extends all the way down the line.”
Chicago Public Schools have experienced significant improvements in several areas since the Mayor’s 1995 takeover. The attendance rate is up. The number of students who meet national reading standards has improved by nearly 15 points. The number of students who meet national math standards is up 18 points. The ratio of students who test in the bottom quartile has been cut in half, from 48 to 24 percent.
Mayor Daley’s public endorsement of the Governor’s school reform proposal comes one day before members of the Illinois State Senate will meet as a whole hear Gov. Blagojevich testify about the need for and merits of his education plan.
In January, Gov. Blagojevich proposed sweeping changes to overhaul the burdensome education bureaucracy in Illinois and to bring accountability to the system by creating a Department of Education that reports directly to the Governor. The Governor’s plan to shift responsibility for managing the state’s schools away from the Illinois State Board of Education to a new Department of Education addresses growing frustration over the bureaucratic burden placed on local school districts and educators.
The new, streamlined Department will work directly with local schools to reduce the number of rules and regulations that overwhelm them now. It will also develop and implement coordinated strategies to help school districts save money on non-instructional costs so more resources can be committed to the classroom. Although Illinois ranks 16th in the nation when it comes to total spending on education, it ranks a dismal 40th in spending on classroom instruction. Student achievement rates in Illinois are indicative of the need to increase resourced to the classroom: one-third of the state's third graders cannot read at the third grade level and 44 percent of eighth grade students don't meet eighth grade reading standards.
Blagojevich’s education reform plan has already been endorsed by several key lawmakers, including Rep. Calvin Giles, chair of the House Education Committee, and Rep. Mike Smith, chair of the House Education Appropriations Committee, as well as both Illinois teachers’ organizations and dozens of school superintendents from around the state.
“It’s now time for the General Assembly to do for every school in Illinois what it did for the schools of Chicago: make the school system of Illinois accountable for results. That’s why I’m asking the General Assembly to create a Department of Education that’s accountable to the Governor, accountable to the legislature, and accountable to the people of this state.
“Now, it would be easier to just leave things the way they are, and when kids aren’t learning to read – when students are dropping out of school – when taxpayer money isn’t spent efficiently –
to keep blaming the Illinois State Board of Education for all of those problems. It would be easier to blame local schools, blame the Constitution, blame anyone and anything, and avoid taking responsibility for how our schools perform. It would be easy, but it would be wrong. Our parents deserve better. Our teachers deserve better. Our children deserve better.”