Last week, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley announced that he will close sixty of the city’s worst-performing schools over the next six years. They will then be reopened as approximately one hundred small schools. Daley’s plan, called Renaissance 2010, intends to recreate more than 10 percent of the city’s schools-one-third as charter schools, one-third as independently operated contract schools, and the remainder as small schools run by the district-by 2010. He will close schools that have failed to show improvement on test scores, attendance, graduation rates, and other indicators.
While Renaissance 2010 will include some new construction, many existing school buildings-especially large high schools-will be divided into smaller schools-within-schools. The curriculum is expected to vary widely from school to school, with some focusing on college prep or job training and others becoming military academies or language, art, math, or science centers.
Supporters call Daley’s plan the boldest move yet from a mayor who intends to make education reform part of his legacy. The Chicago Tribune called it the “most ambitious effort in a decade to remake the nation’s third-largest school system.” Tom Vander Ark, executive director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said the proposal was the “most important thing that’s happened in high school reform in this generation.” The plan is expected to put Chicago at the forefront of urban school systems that are turning to corporations and private foundations-such as the Gates Foundation-to help turn around struggling schools. Already, the Gates Foundation has invested $20 million in Chicago schools.
“Despite our best efforts and the hard work of teachers, principals, parents and students, some schools have consistently underperformed,” Daley said. “We must face the reality that-for schools that have consistently underperformed-it’s time to start over. We have a sacred obligation to our children to give them the best education possible. Fear of the unknown can never relieve us of this obligation.”
Chicago’s business and civic community has eagerly pledged to step forward with financial capital. In fact, the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, an organization of leaders from seventy-five of the Chicago region’s largest corporations, professional firms, and universities, is establishing an organization called New Schools for Chicago, which plans to raise at least $50 million in private support to attract and support new school leaders and to help subsidize expensive start-up costs.
“The current system is like having one supermarket in a little town,” said R. Eden Martin, president of the Civic Committee. “Monopoly breeds relative inefficiency and high costs. Those who don’t fare well in competition tend to fall by the wayside. We believe that New Schools for Chicago will provide families with educational options and create a more competitive environment-which will lead to higher academic standards and greater accountability in public schools.”
To learn more about the mayor’s plan, read “Daley Set to Remake Troubled Schools,” in the June 25, 2004 issue of the Chicago Tribune.