October 13, 2000 (217) 782-4648 or (312) 814-3490
Chicago – Mayor Richard M. Daley, whose personal crusade to turn around Chicago’s public schools has led to awe-inspiring, system-wide improvement, today was honored as the National Association of State Boards of Education’s (NASBE) Policy Leader of the Year.
The award is given annually to a national or state-level policymaker or education leader who has shown creative, committed and enduring leadership toward improving public education. The award was given at NASBE’s annual conference, held this year at the Adam’s Mark Hotel in St. Louis.
Illinois State Board of Education Chairman Ron Gidwitz nominated Daley for the award. “The vision he shared with the city has now become the city’s vision as evidenced by increased parent volunteers, improved test scores and enhanced community activities to keep kids off the streets,” Gidwitz said.
“Through his leadership, the citizens of Chicago are again proud of their city and their schools,” he said.
In his nominating letter, Gidwitz recalled the “dark days” of Chicago education when, in the late 1980s people nationwide started to think of Chicago public schools as the worst in the nation.
Fed up with such criticism, Daley in 1995 invoked his personal and political clout to convince the Illinois General Assembly to pass a raft of new laws to give Daley complete authority over – and responsibility for – Chicago’s public schools.
That move in itself – riskier than most people realize – would merit public commendation, Gidwitz said.
But then two things happened.
First, Chicago’s school actually started showing real, meaningful improvement in almost every category – academics, enrollment, attendance and safety.
And secondly, people nationwide started to notice the improvement. Eventually, Chicago was seen as a model for innovative, tough and, most importantly, successful school reform.
Daley is “a person of vision and bold action,” said NASBE Director of Government and Public Affairs, Dave Griffith. “He set clear objectives and goals, but what is more important, is that he achieved them.
“He has tackled tough issues in the Chicago public schools and has radically revamped what is happening in Chicago public education,” Griffith said.
Honoring Daley is somewhat unusual, Griffith said, in that the award usually goes to a state-level policymaker. But, Chicago has such a significant impact on the rest of the state that Daley’s work has had tremendous reach statewide, he said.
NASBE also released a study strongly condemning the concept of social promotion – that is, automatically passing a student to the next grade whether the student qualifies for promotion or not.
The report, “Failure is Not an Option: The Next Stage of Education Reform” was written by a NASBE study group chaired by Illinois State Board of Education Vice President Marilyn McConachie.
It calls upon state boards and other education leaders to allow local districts and schools increased flexibility to structure curriculum, instructional practices and classroom time so that all students can meet increased academic standards.
The report also strongly criticizes the persistent achievement gap between white and minority students. It found such factors as inadequate educational opportunities, the “tyranny of low expectations,” poverty, lack of parental involvement and peer and cultural influences all must be confronted if education reform is to advance.