Rahm Emanuel - Not Yet Mayor and Already Has Got Chicago and Its Schools in a Fine Mess
Chicago Schools CEO Choice Shows Problem With Mayoral
by Michael Klonsky
April 21, 2011
"I wanted an entire new board, an entire new
corporate suite because what's happening today both
on the finances and the educational scores -- needs
to be shaken up. And what I know in my heart [is
that] the people of the city do not think we're
doing what we need to do for our children."
-- Rahm Emanuel
Rahm Emanuel isn't even officially mayor yet and he's
already got the city and its schools in a fine mess.
His appointment of the embattled J.C. Brizard as
schools CEO (that's what we call school superintendents
here in Chicago) rivals only Bloomberg's pick of Cathie
Black in N.Y. as most embarrassing of the year. Black
lasted a mere three months before high-tailing it back
to the sanctity of the corporate world, where failure
is more often than not rewarded with super bonuses and
not just a kick in the ass and a golden parachute a la
urban school bosses.
Bloomberg's choice of the eminently unqualified Black
reset the I-don't-give-a-damn-what-anybody-else-thinks
standard previously set by former D.C. mayor, Adrian
Fenty, whose pick of the also unqualified Michelle Rhee
earned him the total disdain of D.C. voters who
ultimately booted both Fenty and Rhee out of town.
It's not that Brizard isn't qualified for the CEO job.
After all, he is a career educator who cut his
administrative teeth (unfortunately) under the tutelage
of former N.Y. chancellor Joel Klein and honed them at
the Broad Foundation's academy for superintendents.
There he learned the arts of union busting,
charterization, privatization of public schools, and
fudging data to make the boss look good. Brizard was a
top student and wears all these stripes proudly on his
sleeve. The one he's most proud of, and the one that
won him favor with Emanuel and Chicago's corporate
reformers was February's vote of "no confidence" by
nearly 95 percent of Rochester's teachers. How much
more qualified can a Broad graduate be?
But before Brizard could even book his first-class
ticket to Chi-town, the bloom began to fade from the
rose. Anyone paying attention should have seen this
Back in 2008, Gary Stager, a senior editor at District
Administration Magazine, described Brizard as "reality-
impaired and driven by ideology." His condemnation by
Rochester teachers should have been a clue, even to the
most clueless. His inability to find any common ground
with Adam Urbanski, probably the most reform-minded
union leader in the country, is not only a tip-off to
Brizard's style of work, it also tips the new mayor's
hand, showing that with union negotiations on the
horizon, he too has little interest in bargaining in
Emanuel praised Brizard as a "collaborator and a
cooperator" who met with teachers, principals and
parents before making key decisions (ironic, since
Emanuel never met with teachers, principals, parents,
or even with his own board before naming his new CEO).
"Oh give me a break," said Adam Urbanski,
president of the Rochester Teachers Association.
"He received a resolution of no-confidence from the
Community Education Task Force and a 94.6 percent
vote of no confidence from Rochester Teachers. That
speaks for itself." Brizard's three-year tenure
has been difficult, Urbanski has said, because
"Brizard's definition of shared decision-making was
to make a decision and then share it with others."
By picking Brizard without any consultation or input
from the school community, Mayor-elect Emanuel has
somehow managed to mire himself, his new school board,
and the city in a major scandal. Brizard's violation of
his three-year contract in Rochester, which began
January 1, reveals not only a lack of commitment or
integrity, but also has that district's board president
It's only taken the Chicago media (with some help from
local bloggers, including myself and PURE's Julie
Woestehoff and Rochester journalists like Rachel
Barnhart) about a week to expose Brizard's phony test-
score and graduation-rate claims. A Rochester
"miracle"? The honeymoon is therefore declared over
before it's even begun.
Here's the Rahm-friendly Sun-Times buyer's-remorse
"In introducing Jean-Claude Brizard this week as
his Chicago schools chief, Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel
touted Brizard's record of dramatically increasing
graduation rates in Rochester, N.Y. Too bad it's
Tribune columnist Eric Zorn writing the same day the
corporate-loving Trib declared Brizard to be "our kind
of guy to lead Chicago schools," had this to say:
"Can Rochester, N.Y., superintendent Jean-Claude
Brizard (left) pad a payroll? Skirt the rules?
Spend frivolously? Distort statistics to make
himself look good? Infuriate his constituents with
a high-handed style? Check, check, check, check and
As I have maintained from the beginning, this is more
about Rahm Emanuel and the very idea of mayoral control
of the schools, than it is about J.C. Brizard. While
Brizard showed himself to be an opportunist bureaucrat,
ready and willing to violate his contract and trust
with the city of Rochester, and come to Chicago to
serve as Rahm's hatchet- man, it's Emanuel and his
autocratic control of the schools that's the real
problem here. When big-city mayors are given complete
control of the schools and can hand-pick their school
boards and name their school chiefs, they will
inevitably do so based primarily on political fidelity
to themselves and to their corporate patrons. Turning
the school system into a wing of City Hall almost
always leads to bad decisions where the interests of
schools, children and their teachers are concerned.
Rahm rushed into this mess because of his imperial
style of work, learned first in his days as a local
machine politician and then honed as Obama's bullying
chief of staff. Like any good politician, he ran his
campaign with the promise of radical change. The
cornerstone of his change agenda? "Hammer the
teachers." (His phrase, not mine.)
But one larger question remains unanswered: Why is Rahm
talking radical change for the city's school reform
agenda, sweeping out the entire reform board, and even
buying a "new corporate suite" when we've always been
told of the great progress the schools were making
under the previous corporate reform plan, Renaissance
2010? You all remember Ren10, right?
Gary Stager sums it all up in a fine post on his
Stager-to- Go blog: "In education, nothing succeeds
quite like failure."
[Michael Klonsky, Ph.D. teaches in the College of
Education at DePaul University and serves as the
national director of the Small Schools Workshop.
He has written extensively on school reform issues with
a focus on urban school restructuring. His latest book
(with Susan Klonsky), Small Schools: Public School
Reform Meets the Ownership Society (Routledge), is a
critique of top-down school reform and the push towards
privatization of public schools.
His SmallTalk blog can be found at
Email: [log in to unmask] ]
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