Schools chief chalks improved CPS scores to better choice

SHARE Schools chief chalks improved CPS scores to better choice
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Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool looks on as Janice Jackson, chief education officer of CPS, speaks to the City Club of Chicago at Maggiano’s, Thursday morning, Sept. 7, 2017. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

As Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool took a victory lap Thursday morning, heralding what he said were increased metrics across a variety of students, he chalked up some of the success to increased competition among Chicago’s district-run and charter schools.

“As choice expands throughout the system, parents are more empowered than ever and schools are under pressure to improve in order to attract students. I know some people think schools should not face that kind of pressure. I disagree,” Claypool told members of the City Club of Chicago in a speech designed to assure parents that the drama of recent years is over.

“We’re all under pressure and without an incentive to get better, big bureaucracies tend to stand still. Pretty soon they convince themselves the status quo is just fine when it isn’t. In fact, we need to increase competitive pressure and a greater sense of accountability,” he said.

Claypool, Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson and the mayor who appointed them have spent weeks leading up to Tuesday’s first day of school announcing scholarship totals, graduation rates and a variety of other metrics they say point to “blistering” improvements at the country’s third largest district. And those rises defy financial woes that were just mitigated in Springfield by improving how the state funds poor districts, and green-lighting more property taxes for teacher pensions.

Slipped into the same deal were a $75 million scholarship tax-credit program to benefit private schools, and more money for privately managed, publicly funded charter schools, several of which CPS just allowed to add capacity.

Claypool again on Thursday wouldn’t say how many millions more the charter provision would cost the district, saying only that it’s “incredibly technical and complex” so he and staffers are still looking at it.

CPS leaders also are bracing themselves for another enrollment plunge they’ve projected at about 8,000 students. Last year, the district lost about 11,000 for a total of nearly 20,000 fewer students across the schools’ system since Claypool took CPS’ helm.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, left, and Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis toured Prosser Academy, 2148 N. Long Ave. Thursday. | Lauren FitzPatrick/Sun-Times

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, left, and Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis toured Prosser Academy, 2148 N. Long Ave. Thursday. | Lauren FitzPatrick/Sun-Times

Touring Prosser Career Academy High School on the Northwest Side with Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, American Federation of Teachers leader Randi Weingarten chalked up the gains to “glue and spit by the teachers and principals and paraprofessionals,” saying more choice damages the whole system.

Weingarten gave two reasons “why Forrest Claypool is dead wrong.”

“These programs destabilize and defund the schools that parents want to send their kids to,” she said. “The schools that the vouchers are used for – we’ve seen that students have actually done worse.”

The problem isn’t lack of choices, it’s insufficient funding for existing schools, Weingarten said.

“By defunding these public schools you are starting to force parents to try to find something else,” she said. “That’s not competition. That is craven.”

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