Hard work rewarded
Rahm Emanuel's school reforms are working
Let me teach you some new words
“NO FAMILY should go to the poorhouse because they are giving their kid a crack at the American dream,” said Rahm Emanuel on January 9th. Chicago's mayor was presenting his plans for education at Kenwood Academy, a high school on the city's South Side.
On the same day in Tennessee, President Barack Obama announced plans to exempt qualified students from tuition fees at community colleges. The White House had taken a leaf out of Chicago's book, said Mr Emanuel, who last October introduced the Chicago STAR Scholarship, which pays the community-college tuition fees of the best graduates from Chicago's public-school system.
Mr Emanuel wants more students to enroll in a college and take courses (and, if they pass, get credits) while still in their last year of high school, which helps to reduce their tuition costs later. With the help of a donation of 500,000 over three years from General Electric, the programme will grow from almost 2,500 students to more than 6,000 next year. Kenwood Academy has more students in the programme than any other high school in Chicago.
Some of the toughest decisions Mr Emanuel had to make in his first term concerned schools. He demanded merit pay for teachers and a longer school day (Chicago's was only 5 hours 45 minutes) and earmarked for closure 50 half-empty schools in poor districts. Teachers went on strike for the first time in 25 years, but Mr Emanuel got the longer day and the closures went ahead in 2013. The teachers kept their seniority-based pay system.
Mr Emanuel ploughed some of the money saved by closures into charter schools, which made him even more unpopular with the teachers' unions. But charter schools have worked well in Chicago. The Noble Network, which already runs 16 charter high schools with 10,000 pupils and plans to have 20,000 by 2020, has an attendance rate of 94% (compared with 73% for Chicago public schools) and a drop-out rate of only 0.4% (compared with 4.7%). It also gets better results on the ACT, a college-readiness test. It has an even higher percentage of minority students (98% compared with 92% at Chicago public schools), and slightly less public funding.
Rosa Alanis, the principal of Golder College Prep, one of the Noble network schools, says all her pupils have a teacher as a designated adviser, whom they see twice every school day. Attendance and performance are the advisers' responsibility, so they go to great lengths to ensure their charges show up, dress properly in their uniform of grey trousers and blue sweaters, and work hard. Ms Alanis herself looked after a group of 13 “challenging” boys. In one case she even drove to a pupil's house to get him to come to school. He was still in his pyjamas, but obeyed.
Mr Emanuel is keen on charter schools, but he didn't mention them when he presented his second-term plans for education. Instead he promised to put Wi-Fi in all classrooms, and to ensure that every family would be within three miles of a high school offering some special focus, such as science or the International Baccalaureate. Presumably, he did not want to annoy those who think that charter schools leave public schools in the dumps. In fact, competition has prodded public schools to shape up a bit. The drop-out rate has gone down and ACT scores have slightly improved, albeit from a very low level.
attendance rate 出勤率
pyjamas n. 睡衣；宽长裤