Posted Friday, Sept. 14, 2012, at 8:44 AM
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 10: Mayor Rahm Emanuel (2nd R) visits Chicago Public School children at Woodson Regional Library on September 10, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois.
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images
The Chicago teachers strike has led to the fanciful notion that big city school systems' problems could all be solved if we just banned private schools, thus forcing folks like Rahm Emanuel and Barack Obama to send their kids to them. That's probably wrong (some families would move to the suburbs, leaving urban schools with less tax money even as suddenly they have to serve more kids) but politically it does seem to me to send a bad message when politicians refuse to participate in public services. What's more, it sends a misleading message about where the problems are in the education system.
The fact is that as best we can tell Chicago Public Schools are doing a bang-up job of serving kids like the Emanuels.
You have to delve a bit into the mysteries of the NAEP Data Explorer but that can get you demographic breakdowns and comparisons. We see that on the 8th Grade Math test, white kids from non-poor English-speaking households get 308 in Chicago Public Schools and just 299 nationwide. On the 8th Grade Reading test, white kids from non-poor English-speaking households get 287 in Chicago Public Schools and just 277 nationwide.
On average, Chicago Public Schools students do way worse than the national average in part because the demographics of Chicago Public Schools' client population is challenging and in part because CPS does worse with other sub-categories. Non-poor African-American students, for example, do worse in CPS than they do nationwide. Hispanics English Language Learners do a bit worse in Chicago than they do nationally. There are problems and there's always room for improvement. But even though there are relatively few middle class white families sending their kids to Chicago Public Schools those that do seem to be doing fine and in fact better than their peers elsewhere.
It would probably be good for the city for its leaders to send that message to families living in the area. It would, among other things, make Chicago more competitive with the suburbs as a location for middle class families and help it take advantage of the fact that Chicago is very affordable compared to cosmopolitan coastal cities.