Take 5: Rahm touts City Colleges grad rate; CPS defends Confucius Institute; Lewis slowly comes back

Print More

Unlike four years ago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel did not kick off his re-election campaign at a school, but he did talk about education, noting less controversial moves such as all-day kindergarten, the longer school day and the rising graduation rate — which began under his prececessor. The campaign kickoff was at Cinespace Film Studios, which Emanuel said has provided hundreds of jobs.

Not surprisingly, Emanuel did not mention the closing of 50 schools in 2013, nor the many new schools that have opened amid declining enrolllment in the system, according to the Sun Times.

Emanuel highlighted his initiatives linking CPS with City Colleges of Chicago. Standing with him were students from Phillips and Senn high schools who qualify for the yet-to-be implemented scholarships that will provide free tuition for CPS students with B averages. Also, his second campaign commercial features City Colleges’ college-to-careers program that helps students get jobs while in school. And he heralded the doubling of the City Colleges graduation rate during his tenure.  

However, The Chicago Reporter’s Curtis Black warns that the graduation figure is questionable. In a column he wrote last week, Black said that most of the graduation increase is due to City Colleges moving students who are taking courses for personal enrichment into the Associates General Studies Program. Of the 2,000 additional graduates (out of 115,000 students), 1,350 were AGS degrees, according to Black. Even the college system says these degrees are “not designed for transfer or as an occupational degree,” the two primary purposes of City Colleges.   

2. Summer job bonus… A new study finds that an experimental youth summer jobs program spearheaded by Emanuel did more than put a little cash into the pockets of some teens, the Chicago Sun Times reports. The participants–at-risk students ranging in age from 14 to 21–committed half as many crimes in the 16 months afterwards as those who applied but didn’t get in, according to a study published in Science Magazine.  In addition to getting a job as a clerk or a camp counselor, each student got a mentor.

In the 1980s and 1990s, almost every teenager who wanted a summer job got minimum wage work through the city, which had a large federal grant for the program. In the 2000s, that federal grant shifted its focus to serving teenagers year round through social service agencies, alternative schools and adult employment agencies. The result is that fewer young people were served.

But since the late 2000s, the city has pieced together money to bring back the summer jobs program. Last year, some 22,000  teenagers got jobs, at a program cost of about $1,000 for each.

3. Confucius Institute questioned… CPS officials are defending their partnership with the Confucius Institute, a free program that offers 8,000 students Chinese language instruction and cultural experiences, according to the Chicago Tribune. The program was the subject of a congressional hearing last week. Critics say the institute paints China in too favorable a light and glosses over events like the Tiananmen Square protest and human rights violations in China.

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley brought the program to CPS, where it is housed at Walter Payton High School on the Near North Side.

Several universities, including the University of Chicago, have dropped similar programs. Beyond questions about curriculum, university officials were concerned that they could not choose the faculty. While there is now a national conversation about the institute, the University of Illinois-Chicago just started the program.

Critics say the federal government could do more to finance Chinese-language programs within the United States, rather than relying on Chinese funds to do so. “Why should we hand our young people over to an authoritarian government because they supply the funds?’ asked one Chinese-language professor at the University of California at Riverside. ‘We have enough funds for that.”

4. Karen slowly comes back… CTU president Karen Lewis tells the Sun-Times’ Lauren Fitzpatrick that she is doing some work though not fully back on the job. Lewis had to step down temporarily after she was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor. She says she has not been cleared by her doctors to go back to work full time but hopes to return to work full-time in January.

She introduced Mayoral challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia at Wednesday’s House of Delegates meeting, according to the Sun Times.

“It all depends on how I feel, to be perfectly honest,” Lewis told WGN Radio. “When I come back, I will come back at the space where I was, at the level of doing the work I was doing, if that’s what my doctors allow me to do.” She said she talks with Vice President Jesse Sharkey about CTU business nearly every day. “We are very close,” she said. “He keeps that ship righted and steered.”

In the 17-minute interview with WGN Radio, she talks about the upcoming mayoral election, the elected school board initiative, and what life has been like since the diagnosis: “The problem with having a disease that’s this catastrophic on one level is you don’t know why, you don’t know how you got it, you don’t know what causes it. So you’re always in this sense of frustration about what you know and what you don’t know. And that’s just the way life is.”

5. Football for the rich … State officials say that a lawsuit filed last week over concussions student athletes have  suffered could lead to the shutdown of high school football programs that can’t afford on-call doctors for practices, computer-based screenings of the brain, according to a Chicago Tribune story.

“If this lawsuit is successful, it will present challenges to high school football programs that are … so far-reaching for many schools, they will undoubtedly adversely affect high school programs, and could eliminate some programs in Illinois,” said Marty Hickman, executive director of  the Illinois High School Association. He was responding to a lawsuit filed in Cook County last week by a former quarterback at Notre Dame College Prep in Niles who says the IHSA doesn’t do enough to prevent the potential damage players suffer from concussions. The plaintiff says he still suffers from lightheadedness, memory loss and migraines related to his own injuries in the 2000s. A recent study shows that just a single season of high school football — even without a concussion — can lead to brain abnormalities. 

Hickman says it would be a shame for poorer schools to drop football because of expensive new safety regulations, saying that would “create a two-tier system of high school sports in Illinois, where wealthier districts can afford new safety mandates and higher insurance costs, and poorer districts are forced to drop football.”