Friday, March 26, 2010

Arne Duncan -- Some pigs are more equal than others

Hmmm, when the US Education Secretary Arne Duncan was running the Chicago schools, his office kept a secret list of special admissions requests to get students in to the elite public Chicago college prep high schools. Admissions to these schools was supposed to be based on test scores, but Chicago political insiders were hoping a special request from Duncan's office would assist their special kids.
The log is a compilation of politicians and influential business people who interceded on behalf of children during Duncan's tenure. It includes 25 aldermen, Mayor Richard Daley's office, House Speaker Michael Madigan, his daughter Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, former White House social secretary Desiree Rogers and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun.

Non-connected parents, such as those who sought spots for their special-needs child or who were new to the city, also appear on the log. But the politically connected make up about three-quarters of those making requests in the documents obtained by the Tribune.

And,
Many of the politicians named on Pickens' log acknowledged that they made calls on students' behalf because this is how the system works in Chicago. They weighed in on behalf of relatives, friends and campaign workers.

"…Whenever anybody asked me — whether it was a relative, a distant relative, a next-door neighbor or the guy across the street — I would write letters," said Ald. Walter Burnett Jr., 27th, who has ended the practice. "Sometimes the kids get in; sometimes they don't.

Here's how it worked for fromer Senator Carol Mosely Braun, who lives in Hyde Park in Chicago and now has a private law practice there:
In 2008, former U.S. Sen. Braun sought help for two students, though she said Monday she does not recall placing a call to Duncan's office. Pickens said she called him, seeking help getting a student into Whitney Young Magnet High School, and he asked Principal Joyce Kenner to call the former senator back.

Braun said she called Kenner to inquire after one child's mother told her the student's application had been "lost in a computer glitch." Braun said Kenner told her: "I'll take care of it."

The child got into Whitney Young, despite a below-average admission score. The Tribune is not naming any students involved because they are minors and it is unlikely they knew about efforts being made on their behalf.

"This process is not pure, and everyone knows it," Braun said. "The process is a disaster, and quite frankly, I don't have a problem making a call. If the process were not as convoluted as it is, parents wouldn't be asking for help."


While Duncan says he did not "intercede" for anyone, Duncan does admit he forwarded on the request for special consideration to the principals of the elite schools.

Current top Duncan aide Peter Cunningham also confirmed that Duncan talked to the inspector general, but he insisted by e-mail that Duncan "did not lobby or intercede for anyone.''

"In an effort to be responsive, we would log these calls, get the information and forward it to principals, but it was entirely a principal's discretion to respond to the requests," Cunningham said.


As the New York Times reported on this story:

According to The Chicago Tribune, about three-quarters of those in the log had political connections. The log noted “AD” as the person requesting help for 10 students, and as a co-requester about 40 times, according to The Tribune. Mr. Duncan’s mother and wife also appeared to have requested help for students.

“The fact that his name might be next to some of these names doesn’t mean he was trying to get the kid in a school,” Mr. Cunningham said. “He was only asking after someone said, ‘Hi, Arne, is there any way to get into this school?’ ”

Mr. Cunningham said he did not believe principals would have felt any special pressure because Mr. Duncan was the source of the inquiry. “We were always very clear with them that it was up to the principal to make the decision,” he said.



But the Chicago Sun Times isn't buying that excuse. As they write in today's editorial:

Chicago parents have long suspected that a shadow admissions system gave the elite an alternate way to go after a seat at the city's highly coveted college-prep high schools.
Turns out they were right.

The latest bit of evidence is this week's revelation that former Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan's office kept a list of aldermen, businessmen and others in positions of power who called his office to appeal admissions denials at test-based public high schools. The flood of calls suggests these folks knew the regular route wasn't the only route.

It appears that most kids were ultimately rejected, and some regular Chicagoans were on the list too -- looking for a safer school for their kid, for example. Duncan's associates defend the list, saying CPS was just organizing the crush of calls they got and that they demanded no favors for the callers. They simply passed the information to principals, without any recommendation.

But in real life, everyone knows a call from the CEO's office isn't received like any old call.


Seems like a good time for the Obama administration to drum up a lot of media attention to violent rhetoric about the Health Care bill.

5 comments:

INSIDE THE SHRINK said...

It's not what you know, it's who you know. That's proven here once again. It's no wonder the USA has slidden down the ranking list of quality education. The USA falls below these top countries in education:

Singapore
Taiwan
Japan
Republic of Korea
Hong Kong
Sweden
Netherlands
Hungary
Slovenia

That's the result of tactic of the likes of Arne Duncan.

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