If the recent past is prologue, we have reason to be hopeful about Arne Duncan. As he prepared to leave his post as CEO of the Chicago Public Schools last week, Duncan proposed to close or consolidate 25 under-performing or under-enrolled schools. Several years ago, Mayor Daley gave Duncan permission to replace up to 70 schools with 100 new ones by 2010. To date, the city has closed 61 schools and opened 75 new ones. This latest crop would include six closures, five consolidations, five "phase outs," and nine turnarounds (i.e. keep students but replace staff). Renaissance 2010 was met with great hostility by the teachers' union when it was announced--and these new proposed closures and changes are getting a similarly cold reception. But the fact that Duncan didn't back down when the going got tough is a testament to his character--and the fact that Chicago enjoys relative labor peace is a testament to his diplomacy. It's also worthwhile to note that this isn't an 11th hour change of heart; Duncan was shuttering schools and taking a hard line way before Obama was even elected, let alone tapped him for his cabinet. Now let's hope Duncan successfully imports those traits into 400 Maryland Avenue.
"25 schools set for shakeup," by Maudlyne Ihejirika and Cheryl Jackson, Chicago Sun-Times, January 11, 2009