Arne Duncan’s list and the Chicago Way

March 25, 2010

Following up on this item, have a look at John Kass’ column in the Chicago Tribune on Arne Duncan’s secret list and how it fits in the Chicago Way.

The mayor knows how it works. He etched it into Chicago’s civic infrastructure years ago, when he took over the public schools.

Machiavellian? Yes. Because it is a relationship that feeds upon the love of hard-working, tax-paying parents for their children. And it works just fine for the mayor too.

When first elected in 1989, Daley eagerly reached out to those in the city’s predominantly white professional class. They were edgy and many were considering leaving Chicago.

In response, the mayor built top magnet and college prep high schools, pushing through work-rule changes to attract the best teachers. He produced the schools that nervous white-collar voters demanded.

Members of the professional class wanted city life. But they wanted their children educated. They became clients of Daley’s first tier.

The second tier pretty much remained the same, a tier mostly for minorities and the poor.

Daley spent millions upon millions of dollars on new school buildings in low-income neighborhoods. This massive wave of construction endeared him to the predominantly white trade unions: the carpenters, the bricklayers, the electricians who formed his power base on the Far Southwest Side and the southwest suburbs.

But education in the second tier remains abysmal. High school dropout rates are still around 50 percent, yet much higher when magnet schools are exempted. But even as tens of thousands of kids drop out to become calcified in the permanent underclass, the second tier still supports the mayor.

It’s not just about education. It is about jobs and patronage. Top teachers either fled or were lured to the top schools. But middle-rung teachers and below are the backbone of the teachers union.

The neighborhoods were rewarded with local school councils to elect, and budgets to manage and principals to appoint. By allowing the locals to run their mini-fiefdoms, Daley bound neighborhood activists to the system.

They were no longer beefers outside City Hall. They’d bought in.

And the vast public school bureaucracy, with tens of thousands of administrators, remained a patronage base for City Hall and Democratic pols in Springfield, particularly the black legislative caucus.

Then-State Senator Barack Obama was a member of that caucus. Arne Duncan was Daley’s man running the school system, and he’s now President Obama’s education secretary. And what was one of the first acts of the new administration? Shutting down the school-voucher program for poor DC kids that enabled them to go to good private schools and escape the lousy schools staffed by unionized teachers. The patrons looking out for their clients.

And the Chicago Way brought to the national stage.

Read the whole thing. It’s educational.

(hat tip: Vermontaigne)