Chicago Blog

Just before Christmas of 2014, the city of Chicago released a report on police misconduct−how to prevent it, that is.

The report was prepared by the law firm Schiff Hardin and the management consulting firm A.T. Kearney, both based in Chicago.

Although the firms say they provided the report at no cost, the city has paid Schiff Hardin (also known as Schiff Hardin & Waite) about $1.2 million for various services since 2010. Schiff Hardin has helped defend the city against lawsuits brought by citizens who have claimed police misconduct.

To head off misconduct, the Schiff Hardin report recommends that Chicago Police Department:

  • Adopt discipline guidelines, where few or none exist today.
  • Fire any officer engaging in a “code of silence.”
  • Include training as a discipline option.
  • Make supervisors more directly responsible for officer conduct.
  • Look into officer-worn cameras.

To handle misconduct after it happens, the report's authors say that:

  • Misconduct investigations should wrap up within two years.
  • Various investigative bodies should use the same case management system.
  • Investigators should have a community advisory board (which, the authors later say, has already been created).
  • To get accused officers to cooperate with investigations, investigators should "plea bargain" with them.
  • The city should increase the number of investigators.
  • Officers should have less opportunity to appeal discipline decisions to the police board.

In response, officers blasted the report via the termagant Second City Cop blog. Blog posters said that:

  • The annual number of citizen complaints has decreased, so why boost the number of investigators−especially when detectives and evidence technicians are in short supply?
  • The report's authors are a "bunch of assholes" for proposing to restrict the number of "false accusers" that are referred for prosecution. Noting that a false accuser can be charged with a felony, a blogger calls this idea "fucking brilliant."
  • Though former top cop Jody Weiss's policy was to "fuck [officers] every chance you get," officers credit Weiss with fighting citizen lawsuits in court to cut down on frivolous complaints. According to the blog, the Emanuel administration has done a complete 180: it's gone back to settling lawsuits. It did this "in order to enrich connected [law] firms," which the city often hires to defend accused officers.
  • The department can cut down on misconduct-related lawsuits by firing "untouchable" clouted cops who "cost millions" in legal fees. Examples of these "clout babies," says the blog, can be found in daily headlines: "sergeants raping women . . . sergeants firing guns at suburban cops . . . detectives shoplifting . . . commanders sticking guns in people's mouths...things like that."

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.

On our Facebook page, a subscriber named Marc recently asked, "Can low income African American parents transform their neighborhood school like the parents of the Nettelhorst school?" He included a link to a 13-minute video (posted on YouTube) that describes how local parents helped improve the North Side's Nettelhorst Elementary School, at Broadway and Belmont.

My reaction: If they had similar resources, maybe.

The video features Jacqueline Edelberg, a mother in the neighborhood of Nettelhorst who sought a school to which she could eventually send her young kids. She and another mom toured the nearby Nettelhorst, but found it lacking.

Speaking in the video of what led her to organize local parents to help improve Nettelhorst, Edelberg recalls, "My husband said, 'You're not working now, go make yourself useful.' "

That comment underlines what's clear from the video: Edelberg—as well as the parents she helped organize—have spouses, stable income, and good education. I don't think this holds true for many parents of Chicago's public-school students.

Among those who've written about this disparity of resources is the Chicago Reader's Steve Bogira, particularly in his recent, multi-part series on the inequities of Chicago public schools.

In an article titled "Three families tell us why they ditched CPS" that appeared on Sept. 26, 2013, Bogira writes, "Middle-class parents tend to be zealous advocates. They're more likely to know an alderman or a reporter, and make noise about a problem their children's school is facing."

Bogira's article features parents who, like many others, spurned Chicago for the suburbs so their kids could go to good schools. In the article, a parent named Sue opines about the challenges faced by the parents in her former North Park neighborhood, which is populated by many low-income Asian immigrants: "You really didn't get those ethnic groups to participate [in their children's schools], because they're out of their comfort zone, or they're out working numerous jobs, or they don't understand English."

In an earlier article, Bogira quotes from an essay by Richard Kahlenberg that appeared in the journal American Educator. In middle-class schools, Kahlenberg wrote, parents volunteer more often "and know how to hold school officials accountable when things go wrong."

I don't mean to imply that one can't mobilize parents who live in poverty, have a low level of education, and/or lead stressful lives. In fact, such efforts exist—like the Parent Mentor Program of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, which specifically targets parents in low-income communities.

But you can't just show low-income parents a video by their middle-class counterparts and say, "Go do this."

In my 7/25/13 interview with Ben Joravsky, we couldn't bring clarity to a statement that appeared in a 7/23/13 Sun-Times editorial ("TIF cash only a start for CPS"):

The city estimates a surplus this year (half of which goes to the schools) may yield only $10 million for CPS, but it could be larger. It all depends on how carefully the city scrubs each TIF—determining how many dollars are already spoken for and how many aren’t—and what percentage is counted as surplus. The city currently uses 20 percent.

The city uses 20 percent of what, for what?

The answer came in another Sun-Times editorial, this one on 8/4/13 ("A small lifeline for our schools"):

. . . the city historically allows only 20 percent of uncommitted cash to count as surplus. City Budget Director Alex Holt told us last week that 20 percent was "probably the starting point" this year.

In other words: Of each year's budget surplus for which the city has no plans, the city's been able but unwilling to spend four-fifths of it.

The following update on the Wolf Point development appears on the Web site of Alderman Brendan Reilly (42nd).

Third Community Presentation for Proposed Wolf Point Development
WhenThu, December 20, 5:30pm – 7:00pm
WhereThe Conference Center at UBS Tower - One North Wacker Drive, 2nd Floor - Michigan Ballroom (NE corner of Wacker and Madison) (map)
DescriptionDear Neighbor: I am writing to invite you to join me for a third public presentation for the site located at 350 N. Orleans Street, commonly referred to as "Wolf Point". I directed Hines Development Corporation to design this third public meeting around information related to site programming, the bulk table numbers governing the maximum allowed dwelling units, hotel key counts and office space that could be positioned within the proposed building envelopes. Also at this meeting, Hines will discuss their sixth revision to the traffic study---which I required in conjunction with their proposed programming and in anticipation of our upcoming public discussion. I advised Hines that this next revision must contemplate the maximum numbers, in other words, the most intense combination of uses that could be built with the understanding that economically, such a scenario is somewhat unrealistic. In summary, Hines has submitted a proposal for the development of three towers: Phase I (West Tower) proposed as a residential, 525 foot tall structure containing a maximum of 510 units and 200 parking stalls; Phase II (South Tower) proposed as a 950 foot tall, mixed use structure which may contain office space, retail space, residential units and hotel space with 885 parking stalls; and Phase III (East Tower) proposed as a 750 foot tall mixed use structure which also may contain office space, retail space, residential units and hotel space with 200 parking stalls. A maximum of 900 residential units and a maximum of 450 hotel rooms will be allowed to be distributed between Phases II and III with the combined number of residential units and hotel rooms not to exceed those maximums of 900 residential units and 450 hotel rooms. The final draft bulk table can be downloaded here.

Chicago Board of Education vice president Jesse Ruiz recently made an interesting statement: Chicago Public Schools (CPS) isn't able to educate in many cases.

The statement came in the 12/6/12 episode of Chicago Newsroom. Ruiz had this exchange with host Ken Davis:

JESSE RUIZ: Typically, [charters] were put in areas where . . . these were level 3 schools, where some of these charters went into, where we felt, they were just . . . We ourselves, and frankly, it's, CPS's acknowledgment that we are failing to provide this community with a level 1 school. And they deserve it. Every child deserves that opportunity.

KEN DAVIS: This kind of gets right to the heart of this issue of all of you guys who were appointed by Mayor Emanuel when he came in. And there was a broad perception that you were very much pro- . . . at least [pro-]charter, some would say [pro-]privatization, you wanna sell the school system.

JR: I wouldn't put myself in that category . . .

KD: You wanna sell parts off to . . .

JR: We're pro-quality schools, and I think we all are, but I—speaking for myself—I'm neutral on the type of school it is. I'm just pro-providing good options.

KD: But can you address this incredible tension you feel in the air, of people saying, "Yeah, well, if you had just put some money into this traditional school, you wouldn't have to be putting these charters in."

JR: Then you have to contend with the folks who say, "You keep throwing good money after bad." Then you do this, and the results just aren't produced. And then you provide some of those funds to some operators. Noble Street: very good operator in the city. And they're getting the results that, frankly, we weren't able to figure out ourselves. And so I think we owe it to our students to look at every option, and every type of school, be it international baccalaureate—we're bringing more of those programs into the city this year and next—to magnets, to selective enrollment. That's what we've been trying to do.

Chicago Public Schools is the third-largest school district in the U.S., with eight "cabinet-level" divisions—education, accountability, talent, administrative, network supports, portfolio, community affairs, communications (see the accompanying chart)—that include about 5,000 non-teacher staff.


According to Ruiz, CPS staff "weren't able to figure out" what it takes to have a school provide a good education. Really? CPS can't model its well-performing, traditional, neighborhood schools? Then what are we paying these 5,000 people to do? Does it seem obvious to anyone but me that a large, urban public education system should know something about, well, educating? Why do smaller Chicagoland public school systems (with comparatively tiny central offices) provide consistently high-quality schools—without using charters?

In this 9/27/12 audio broadcast of Chicago Newsroom, host Ken Davis leads a concise discussion on Chicago's public housing—and how the Chicago Housing Authority has handled (or not) combining mixed, market-rate, and low-income units. Length 30 minutes.


The Chicago Tribune has reported that a new city/county jobs program will steer public funds to private businesses.
    The City of Chicago will reportedly give the organization, Skills for Chicagoland's Future, over $2.1 million. The program's head, Marie Trzupek Lynch, said she hopes to give millions of dollars to local companies to offset employee-training costs.
    Local billionaire Penny Pritzker chairs the organization's board of directors.

Earlier this week, on Cliff Kelley's radio show on WVON, the head of the African American Police League wondered how well Mayor Emanuel vetted Garry McCarthy, Emanuel's pick for Chicago police superintendent. 

Pat Hill, executive director of the league, said that the National Latino Officers Association successfully sued McCarthy and other police officials for discrimination when McCarthy served as deputy commissioner in New York City's police department.

Further, the Latino officers opposed McCarthy's appointment to head the Newark police.

revolving-doorInterview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on what Mick Dumke brought to the Reader and Joravsky's articles, and more.

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