• Liberal and progressive: How do they differ?

    1 May 2018

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on what distinguishes someone who calls themself a liberal from someone who calls themself a progressive.

  • Audiobook: Joravsky on public schools

    22 February 2018

    This audiobook (part of a series) features years of in-depth discussions by Chicago Reader columnist Ben Joravsky and journalist Dave Glowacz about public schools in Chicago.

  • FBI's Blago wiretap shows Claypool in Rahm's bro-zone

    13 December 2017

    After the recent resignation of Forrest Claypool as head of Chicago Public Schools, one might ask: Why was he hired by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the first place?

    One insight into the Claypool-Emanuel relationship comes from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

    In late 2008, an FBI wiretap recorded then-Congressman Emanuel mentioning Claypool in a telephone call with then-Governor Rod Blagojevich. The FBI had wiretapped Blagojevich's telephones to gather evidence for the subsequent prosecution of Blagojevich.

    Although a detailed transcript of the phone call didn't surface until Blagojevich's 2011 corruption trial, the conversation was first revealed by Blagojevich himself.

    In his 2009 memoir The Governor (Phoenix Books), Blagojevich describes how Emanuel, who in November, 2008 had just been appointed chief of staff by the newly-elected Barack Obama, wanted the governor's help to "appoint a congressman who was going to keep the [5th Congressional district] seat warm" for Emanuel.

    The "purpose of [Emanuel's] call," Blagojevich writes, "was to see whether or not l would be willing to work with him and appoint a successor to his congressional seat who he would have designated to be a placeholder and hold the seat for him when he sought to return to Congress in two years." When Blagojevich questioned the legality of such a move, Emanuel said "that his lawyers thought there was a way where the governor might be able to make an appointment."

    Blagojevich was reluctant to help Emanuel, he says, because "if I helped appoint a congressman who was going to keep the seat warm for him, then I was going to make a lot of people who wanted to be congressman unhappy with me."

    The fact that it was Claypool whom Emanuel wanted as his seat-warmer didn't come to light until two years later, in June, 2011—in a federal-court filing by Blagojevich's lawyers during the legal proceeding against him.

    The filing contained the FBI's transcript of the phone conversation between Emanuel and Blagojevich.

    In the call, Emanuel says that "all of a sudden, all the aldermen and committeemen" wanted to take Emanuel's congressional seat as he left for the White House.

    "Forrest Claypool, bizarrely," Emanuel says, "would like to be considered, and he says he only wants to do it for, like, one term or two max."

    Claypool didn't make it to Congress. But Emanuel, after becoming mayor, appointed him to successive positions as Chicago Transit Authority president, mayoral chief of staff, and finally CEO of Chicago Public Schools.

    The federal government never released an audio version of Emanuel's phone call with Blagojevich. However, Inside Chicago Government has created an exclusive audio reenactment: Find it in the premium version of the interview titled "Rahm fired up about—but wouldn't fire—Forrest Claypool."

  • Rahm fired up about--but wouldn't fire--Forrest Claypool

    8 December 2017

    Just before the resignation of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Forrest Claypool, Dave Glowacz and the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky examined how Claypool got to be the CPS chief—and why Mayor Emanuel protects him.

  • Claypool and Rahm: combatants or colluders?

    11 May 2017

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on CPS chief Forrest Claypool's threat to end the 2017 schoolyear early.

  • Impact of CPS's new HS application

    8 May 2017

    Chicago Newsroom interview with reporters Lauren FitzPatrick, Sarah Karp, and Becky Vevea about CPS's new application process for high schools.

  • School cash crisis tips Rauner's hand, marks Rahm's brand

    7 March 2017

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on the annual Chicago Public Schools funding crisis, and the roles of Governor Bruce Rauner, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and the General Assembly.

  • Aldermen float, sink schools tax-increment financing

    4 October 2016

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on the stalled Cardenas-Garza ordinance that deals with the city's tax-increment financing surplus, and more.

  • Watching the public schools ship sink

    10 February 2016

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on why CTU leadership accepted a contract offer that some felt its members would surely reject, and more.

  • Rahm cops to 'owning' McDonald fiasco—or does he?

    28 December 2015

    Interview in which the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky looks at aldermen's assertion that the Emanuel administration misled them about the McDonald shooting, and more.

  • 2016 city budget raises taxes, fees, and questions

    17 November 2015

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on the city budget director's flawed logic about TIF districts robbing schools, and more.

  • U of C gets $1 land deal for charter school

    13 November 2015

    The city of Chicago proposes to sell highly valued real estate in South-Side Woodlawn to the University of Chicago for one dollar—a deal that one resident says will create an "educational ghetto."

  • School start sees familiar class and cash chaos

    21 September 2015

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on classroom chaos created by the 20th-day student count, and more.

  • Principal Troy LaRaviere's City Club speech

    27 August 2015

    On August 25, 2015, Troy LaRaviere, principal of Blaine Elementary School, addressed a meeting of the City Club of Chicago. This is an excerpt from a video of the meeting, courtesy of the City Club.

    LaRaviere likened the administration of Chicago Public Schools to "a thief stealing your rent money, then attempting to convince you that the landlord is your problem." Length 7.2 minutes.

    Standard audio:

  • Council, assembly, and school board: education funding tag team

    14 August 2015

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on the different pension holidays won by Chicago Public Schools, and more.

  • School choices: myths, charters, dollars, and fear

    19 June 2015

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on the "more choice" argument for charter schools, and more.

  • Refuting the rationale for closing schools

    5 May 2015

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on what proponents of school closings have missed, and more.

  • Investor-funded pre-K based on false premises, excluded kids

    15 January 2015

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on how the investor-funded scheme demands that some kids not attend pre-K, and more.

  • Does social promotion pass the test?

    18 December 2014

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on the justification for staying in school when you don't learn much, and more.

  • School grade levels and homework might work against learning

    15 December 2014

    According to a recent analysis, an estimated 14 percent of ninth-graders in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) will earn a four-year college degree within 10 years of starting high school.

    The analysis, released in early December of 2014 by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research, also stated that only 40 percent of CPS high school graduates enroll in four-year colleges.

    The analysis further concluded that:

    • Chicago places close to the national rate (estimated at 18 percent) for ninth-graders earning a degree, and places ahead of other large urban districts.
    • Based on ACT test scores, many CPS students remain unprepared for college.
    • At four of the 10 four-year colleges most frequently attended by CPS graduates, the six-year graduation rates are below 50 percent—presenting a major barrier to college completion.

    The conclusion that CPS students graduate unprepared is not a new one; teachers, parents, employers, and other observers have said the same thing for decades.

    Inside Chicago Government has followed the issue of student preparedness for some time. An aspect that we seldom see popular media address: How might the typical structures of school grade-levels and student assessment work against learning? Teachers and education policy wonks we've interviewed have some interesting ideas about this. Here's a summary.

    1. Homework might not only be a waste of time, but a bad way to assess learning.

    When teachers grade homework, some experts say, they're measuring effort, the ability to complete tasks, and the number of right answers—but not necessarily measuring student competence in the subject, or skill.

    Experts point to two phenomena they've observed:

    ■ Homework doesn’t stick. Even students who get good grades all through college can't recall much of the material on which they had to do homework—the homework that helped them get the good grades. This is because homework often asks students to simply memorize facts, or rephrase what the teacher or text has told them—not internalize content in a way that's useful to them in their lives, or even in a job. Students are rewarded for their knowledge of a subject's content, rather than their mastery of subject-related skills.

    ■ Improving homework performance doesn't affect grades. Education researchers say that "homework help" initiatives—wherein teachers or aides help students with their homework—often don't result in better grades or test scores. This suggests, they say, that either homework doesn't actually helps kids do better in school, or that grades don't work well as a measure of student performance.

    2. Grade levels group students to the disadvantage of many.

    Emotional, social, and intellectual development varies widely among children of the same age. Classrooms therefore might work better, experts say, if they grouped students based on where the students place in a development spectrum—rather than by age, as most grade levels typically do.

    Furthermore, once students are grouped in a grade level, they're expected to meet "accepted" standards for that grade level—rather than perform at a level that's based on where they are in their own development. Forcing students to "pass" a grade level, experts say, not only ignores their individual level of development; it can set up unreasonable expectations for how they should perform at the next grade level.

    3. Knowledge of subject content shouldn't be the only basis for graduation.

    Many agree that high-school graduates should exhibit core competencies. For example, graduates should be able to articulate their thoughts orally and in writing. And they should know how to add, subtract, divide, calculate averages, and figure percentages.

    Beyond that, some experts say, a person graduating from high school would be best served in later life if they know how to (a) regulate their own emotions, (b) work well in groups, and (c) have empathy for people around them. Furthermore, they should understand (and take comfort in) the fact that individuals are not naturally good at some things; rather, they develop skills through practice and hard work.

    The latter point underscores the importance of exposing students to a variety of disciplines such as music, art, and social sciences—without having to memorize or be tested on content. Exposing students to these arts and sciences can help them later—either in school or after graduation—when they're ready to decide in which areas they might want to focus and perhaps work.