Freddie is going to have more to say about the Chicago school strike, and I’m looking forward to that because he’s a lot better informed on the general topic. Living in Rochester, we had a preview of coming attractions when Jean-Claude Brizard, the current Superintendent of Chicago Schools, ran our school district. When he left, I wrote about how Brizard was the latest in a long line of grifters passing through our town on their way to bigger and better things, and now it looks like he’s gotten the strike he’s always wanted.
Rochester’s an interesting case because the role poverty plays in school quality is pretty obvious. The city school, located in the poor, minority city center, is the usual urban catastrophe. Schools in the affluent, mostly white suburbs that ring the city are regularly ranked in the top 100 lists of public schools nationwide.
Brizard’s predecessor, Bill Cala, was the former superintendent of one of those suburban schools. Cala served as interim superintendent of the city school district while the school board went through another of its perennial quests for the one true fixer who will magically transform a district that’s been broken for decades. When he left, Cala wrote a tough letter to the school board (which is unfortunately no longer available on the web) that focused on the role of urban poverty in the failure of the city school district, and called for a more holistic solution that acknowledged that schools alone can’t fix the problem.
Cala was just a well-intentioned educator at the end of a successful career, so he could tell the truth about city schools. Brizard, who had his eye on bigger and better things, knew what the school board and the politically ambitious mayor wanted to hear: schools can fix the culture of poverty. In a couple of years, after Brizard hired a gold-plated set of super administrators and preached his religion of longer school days, a longer school year, and endless standardized tests, Rochester was on the verge of having a strike. Brizard left in the nick of time, and now we have another interim superintendent who knows the community and will patch up the mess left by Brizard.
The pattern of hiring superintendents who will ignore the elephant in the room (poverty), blame teachers, saddle kids with longer school days, and generate a whole bunch of noisy conflict will probably continue here once we’ve cleaned up Brizard’s mess. The school board, which is the acme of incompetence as a far as I can tell, likes the media attention the search brings and the way that a new hiring kicks the can of meaningful change down the road. The mayor likes an outsider as superintendent because the grifter careerists we hire are a lot more likely to do what the mayor wants because mayoral control is the new hotness and it looks good on their resume. I’m just glad our latest con artist moved up to Chicago before he could do the kind of damage he’s doing there today.