On December 16, Barack Obama presented Arne Duncan as the new Education Secretary at a press conference at Dodge School. The claim was that this school exemplifies his “Chicago miracle”—low-performing, low-income African American or Latino schools with rising test scores. Students, teachers and parents who dominated the Board of Education meeting the next day knew better. In Duncan’s seven years as CEO of Chicago Public Schools (CPS), he has intensified racist stratification, privatized 10% of the schools (with plans for more), and militarized CPS with the complicity of the Chicago Teachers Union.
Duncan, friend to Chicago’s Business Roundtable, Mayor Richard Daley, and Obama, is no friend to the majority of Chicago students. Duncan (and Daley’s) signature plan, Renaissance 2010, closed 19 schools, mostly in formerly black or Latino neighborhoods now being gentrified. With the working-class students in schools far from the neighborhood, Duncan then built “Renaissance” schools for the wealthier families. Daley’s plan to bring middle- and upper-income families into the city (while driving out the poor by tearing down their housing) depended on having schools for their children.
As the U.S. military involvement abroad deepens, Chicago has JROTC (Junior Reserve Officer Training Corp) programs in 31 high schools and 21 middle schools, 7 military “schools within a school” and 5 Military Academies. Next September, when the Air Force Academy opens, Chicago will have the distinction of being the only city with an academy for every branch of the Armed Forces. Duncan calls this militarization “choice.”
Also under “Ren 2010,” 75 new charter schools have opened. Charter teachers are not allowed to join the union. Their salaries are capped at ¾ that of senior union teachers, and they work longer hours. Charter schools are not about better education. They are about saving money, destroying unions and turning control of schools over to private companies.
Duncan’s new “turnaround” fires all the teachers in poor black schools and turns them over to private enterprises. The racist result has been that most of the experienced African-American teachers at these schools are replaced with inexperienced, predominately white ones. There are 2,000 fewer black teachers in CPS now than in 2002, a significant reversal of the hard-fought struggles of the 1960’s and 1970’s to integrate Chicago’s teaching staff.
Duncan and Board president Rufus Williams tried to intimidate students who spoke out at the Board meeting against Ren 2010, claiming “someone is feeding you wrong information,” but the students held their ground. Students and teachers described the harmful effects of a CPS policy which refuses to staff new teachers until October, while students sit in overcrowded or teacher-less classes. Those subject to this attend schools in neighborhoods ravaged by capitalism, where low-paid jobs and a myriad of housing and economic problems force them to move around. Duncan and his cronies know this, but deliberately refuse to staff schools based on predicted fall enrollment.
Under Ren 2010 (now extended to Ren 2015) a number of schools were shut down and replaced with smaller, more selective schools with adequate numbers of teachers and renovated buildings. Such was the case with Dodge School. As one parent activist said, the “rising” test scores occurred among completely different students than the ones attending the old Dodge. Other parents, teachers, and students exposed the Board’s racist “shell game” where higher performing students are moved into a building and Arne Duncan is given credit for “increasing test scores.”
PLP members are playing an active role in the struggle against these attacks on students. Many of the teachers, students and parents involved in struggle understand that capitalism equips students only with the knowledge and skills needed so the system can exploit them. The system “trains” many to be unemployed or cannon fodder by providing no education and then blaming the students themselves for their lack of knowledge, or indoctrinating them through military presence in the schools (and in many other ways as well). PLP is winning students, parents and teachers to a different vision of the future: one where young people will be cherished and active participants in the building of an egalitarian communist society.