Controversy Over School Ratings as New CPS Board Meets

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s newly appointed Chicago Board of Education ushered in some changes during its first meeting Wednesday – changes that President Miguel del Valle warns are bound to make meetings last longer but, he says, for the sake of increased engagement and transparency.

Among the changes: meetings will be livestreamed online, they’ll be translated in Spanish, board members will chair forthcoming new committees which will meet in neighborhoods, and major action items will be introduced at the beginning of meetings so members can discuss and debate them.

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“Even if we disagree or do not share the same opinion, it is necessary to hear the diverse voices of this board. Our diversity is a reflection of the diversity of our schools. This tone of transparency will be the cornerstone of our leadership. It is critically important in order to maintain trust with the communities we serve,” del Valle said.

Some of that disagreement was on display as the board voted on revisions so the School Quality Rating Policy (SQRP), a series of metrics meant to measure school performance, and serve as a diagnostic and information tool.

Critics – the Chicago Teachers Union chief among them – say they do not do enough to take into account issues like poverty and race, and that the inclusion of metrics like attendance are inappropriate because that doesn’t consider factors like violence that can contribute to high truancy rates.

“The elephant in the room is that some of these ratings are used … to make decisions about actions,” like what school parents try to make sure their children do or don’t attend, member Dwayne Truss said. “For me a quality education is meeting students where they are, nurturing them where they need to be. Not saying students from Marshall (a turnaround high school) should be performing as well as students at Whitney Young (a magnet high school) because they’re walking in the door at different levels of achievement.”

Truss voted against the measure; Vice President Sendhil Revuluri abstained.

Lighfoot campaigned on an elected school board, but she fought against the sole proposal to advance in the since-adjourned spring session of the Illinois General Assembly, saying that the plan to increase the board of education from seven to 21 members would be too “unwieldy.”

The mayor has yet to introduce a different proposal.

Member Elizabeth Todd-Breland introduced herself by saying that she never aspired to be on the board.

“I believe very strongly in the importance of delivering greater democracy in the city of Chicago through an elected, representative school board,” she said.  

Prior to the meeting, the CTU held a rally outside CPS headquarters calling for a “fair contract” that brings more counselors, nurses and librarians to schools.

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

Related stories:

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Mayor Lightfoot Appoints New Chicago School Board

Pritzker Signs Bill Legalizing Recreational Marijuana

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