This brief analysis was written by Catalyst Publisher Linda Lenz, who covered education for the Chicago Sun-Times during Harold Washington’s tenure as mayor.
Harold Washington, the first African American to serve as mayor of Chicago, brought to office an unprecedented interest in improving the citys public schools. However, his enemies in the City Council stood in the way of bold moves.
So he began by assembling leaders from a number of sectors, including the School Board, the business community and education groups, to work behind closed doors to fashion a reform plan. His model was the Boston Compact, an agreement wherein school officials pledged to improve student achievement and readiness for work and business leaders pledged to hire more Boston public school graduates.
Washingtons effort, called a summit, had all but ground to a halt when the Chicago Teachers Union went on strike in September, 1987. The walkout, the ninth in 18 years, lasted a record 19 days. After it finally was settled in the mayors office, Washington seized the opportunity to expand the summit, take it public and, thereby, politically sanction the overhaul of a school system that employed many of his backers.
Washington died of a heart attack before the summit convened. Its leaders cast the work to come as Washingtons legacy, but the summit was so broad-based that its compromise plan called mainly for new resources while keeping the system largely as it was. A break-away group of education activists and business leaders successfully pushed a radical plan decentralization through the creation of local school councils in the Legislature, which enshrined it in the Chicago School Reform Act of 1988.
Some leaders in the African-American community decried the act as deform, in part because it took power away from the African Americans who finally had ascended to leadership of the system. At the time, the School Board president, the superintendent and the president of the Chicago Teachers Union were black.
NOTE: School Reform Chicago Style: How Citizens Organized to Change Public Policy, a comprehensive political history of the Chicago School Reform Act, will be posted to this web site in the future. It was written by Mary OConnell and published in 1991 by the Center for Neighborhood Technology
Education Summit Participants
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Smith
Chicago Theological Seminary;
Dr. John Corbally
|Dr. George Ayers
President, Chicago State University
Rev. Willie T. Barrow
Cardinal Joseph Bernardin
Dr. Manford Byrd
Mary Brian Costello
Dr. Frank Gardener
Dr. Josue Gonzales
Co-Chair, Parent/ Community Council
John W. Long
Coretta L. McFerren
Donald S. Perkins
Dr. Salvatore Rotella
Dr. Ted Sanders
Executive Director, UNO of Chicago
Dr. Richard Wagner
Dr. Arnold Weber
Peter S. Willmott
CITY OF CHICAGO
Note: The 50-member Parent / Community Council was created by Mayor Washington to bring parent and community voices to the Education Summit.