Throughout his election campaign, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has repeatedly held up daylong kindergarten and a longer school day as education accomplishments in his four years as mayor.
He also has defended his controversial decision to close 50 schools, saying 93 percent of the students are at better schools.
At Tuesday’s final mayoral debate, Emanuel is expected to do the same.
But the Chicago Teachers Union says Emanuel is giving too rosy a picture — and just part of it.
Since Emanuel has made those changes, they say, kindergarten classroom sizes are rising as Chicago Public Schools is working to keep down classroom sizes at other grade levels. That includes those that took in students from among the 50 schools shuttered under Emanuel, the union says.
“There’s a direct connection between Rahm Emanuel stealing from Peter to pay Paul,” says Jackson Potter, staff coordinator at the Chicago Teachers Union.
Pointing to Illinois State Board of Education data, Potter said average class sizes are up at every level in the district since the longer school day was put into place.
Potter said the CTU has found class sizes at 29 students or more — and in some cases above 40 – in at least 20 schools.At Waters Elementary in Ravenswood Gardens, for example, the school raised money to pay for a teaching assistant, Potter said, while Grissom Elementary had an average class size of 40 students in second grade, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.
In 2014, board of education data show CPS average class sizes across the board were higher than the state average. In kindergarten, the statewide average was 21.2 while CPS was at 24.7.
“Mayor Emanuel has spent his entire first term fighting to improve the education of CPS children,” said Steve Mayberry, his campaign spokesman. “He has successfully fought to lengthen the school day, expanded full-day kindergarten to every child in the city and is improving classroom conditions for our children, including installing air conditioning units and upgrading science labs.”
The CTU is the chief political backer of mayoral candidate Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who has blasted Emanuel, saying he has failed to provide adequate funding for the changes he has made. CPS faces a $1.1 billion deficit and negotiations are underway for a new teachers contract.
Emanuel has criticized Garcia, saying he will not be able to say “no” to the same group that has funded his campaign. Garcia has said his backers know everyone must face sacrifices ahead.
CTU also counters Emanuel’s argument that the closing decision was a tough one but a good one because most students are in better-performing schools, according to a University of Chicago Consortium of Schools study. Emanuel cites that statistic in defense of his historic mass school closings on the West and South sides of Chicago.
Emanuel says the schools were “under-enrolled and underperforming.”
Potter argues that some of those schools had kids from tough home situations who benefited from small classroom sizes.
“Many of these students had 17 students in a classroom. That’s the class size average for U. of C. lab where Mayor Emanuel sends his children,” Potter said.
The study does say that 93 percent of CPS students were placed in schools that had higher scores. But it points to a number of negatives, including that the closings hit the families of special-needs kids the hardest and that two-thirds of the students were not placed at significantly better schools.
“While the CPS policy did succeed in sending the vast majority of students to schools that were more highly rated than their closed schools, only 21 percent managed to attend a Level 1 school,” the report states. This is potentially problematic because past research found that students’ achievement improved only if they moved to a substantially higher-performing school than the one they left. Though CPS assigned all students to a higher-rated school, just 27 percent were assigned to a Level 1 school [the district’s highest rating]. Meanwhile, 30 percent were assigned to a Level 3 school,” the district’s lowest rating.