Rauner email: Half of CPS teachers ‘virtually illiterate’ – Chicago Tribune
Gov. Bruce Rauner once told some of Chicago’s wealthiest and most influential civic leaders that half of Chicago Public Schools’ teachers “are virtually illiterate” and half of the city’s principals are “incompetent,” according to emails Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration released Thursday under a court order.
Rauner made the assertion five years ago when he was a wealthy private equity executive and an active participant in Chicago school reform. His emails were part of a discussion with affluent education reform activists connected to the nonprofit Chicago Public Education Fund, including Penny Pritzker, now U.S. commerce secretary; billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin; Chicago investment executive Mellody Hobson; and Helen Zell, wife of billionaire real estate magnate Sam Zell.
“Teacher evaluation is critically important, but in a massive bureaucracy with a hostile union, where 50% of principals are managerially incompetent and half of teachers are virtually illiterate, a complete multi-dimensional evaluation system with huge subjectivity in it will be attacked, manipulated and marginalized — the status quo will prevail,” Rauner wrote in a December 2011 email arguing for a strong system of teacher and principal evaluations in the district. “It’s much more critical that we develop a consistent, rigorous, objective, understandable measure and reporting system for student growth upon which all further evaluation of performance will depend.”
Asked on Thursday about the governor’s characterization of Chicago educators, Rauner spokesman Lance Trover issued an apology on the governor’s behalf.
“Significant change can be frustratingly slow; this is especially true in public education. Many of us, at one time or another, have sent hastily crafted emails containing inaccurate or intemperate statements,” Trover’s statement said in part. “This particular email was sent out of frustration at the pace of change in our public school system. The governor regrets writing it and apologizes to CPS educators for making an unfair, untrue comment.”
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis described Rauner’s comments as “ridiculous” and “silly.”
“That’s on him, that has nothing to do with reality,” said Lewis, who like Rauner graduated from Dartmouth College. “Am I virtually illiterate? I have the same degree he has. Guess what? They didn’t just pass that out to me. … And if he threw everybody out who he claims is virtually illiterate, who would want to come into this system?”
Rauner’s remarks were included in a batch of emails the Chicago Tribune requested from Emanuel’s office more than a year ago in connection with its reporting about a controversial $20.5 million no-bid CPS principal training program at the center of former district CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett’s guilty plea to federal fraud charges last year.
The mayor’s office heavily redacted some of the messages or withheld them entirely. The Tribune then sued the Emanuel administration, and this week Cook County Judge Anna Demacopoulos ruled the mayor’s office largely violated the state’s open records laws and ordered City Hall to turn over the emails.
Rauner had once headed the board of the nonprofit education fund, which initially provided money for a CPS training program through a company called SUPES Academy. The education fund still works with CPS by financially backing major programs, and much of its education philosophy aligns with Emanuel’s vision of revamping the city’s public school system. The Rauner emails, which also were sent to Emanuel’s then-deputy chief of staff for education, were released because they included a reference to SUPES.
Though now at odds politically, Emanuel and Rauner have a relationship that goes back about 20 years, and Emanuel’s administration fought to keep secret many of the emails, including Rauner’s. The two did a multimillion-dollar business deal together during Emanuel’s brief stint as an investment banker and have vacationed together.
In response to the Tribune’s records requests, Emanuel’s administration had completely withheld the Rauner emails, arguing they were not subject to the state’s open records law.
Demacopoulos, however, rejected that argument and others, ordering the emails be made public by Tuesday. Emanuel’s office released them Thursday afternoon, hours before much of the nation’s attention would be focused on Donald Trump formally accepting the Republican presidential nomination.
In emails sent from the address he used as head of the venture capital firm GTCR, Rauner made the case for more widespread reforms than had been considered by the education fund. Rauner recommended the fund do a “very deep-dive analysis of CPS strategic plan,” pick out the “most critical elements” and then focus “aggressively on effective implementation.”
Pritzker, a billionaire businesswoman who since has been tapped by President Barack Obama to serve as commerce secretary, pushed back on Rauner, the emails showed. Pritzker argued that projects the fund had chosen to support — including training district executives and improving classroom technology — were important, aligned with CPS initiatives, and endorsed by the district’s leadership, including then-Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard.
Rauner countered in favor of more sophisticated research to overhaul the district and noted that other wealthy businessmen, including Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad and Microsoft founder Bill Gates, had failed to transform public schools despite spending heavily.
“The good news and bad news is that dell/gates/broad have wasted close to $1 billion on public school improvement while we have only wasted less than $200 million in Chicago,” Rauner wrote. “We should be seeking their advice and coordination now — with our great mayor and solid management team, we should be aiming for world-class transformation.”
Rauner’s reference to Emanuel as a “great mayor” has some irony now; the two friends have spent much of the past year sparring over the future of CPS and its precarious finances.
The governor, who as recently as last month was harshly criticized for referring to some Chicago public schools as “crumbling prisons,” has a long history of railing against the Chicago Teachers Union as a citizen and politician.
Appearing at a panel discussion in September 2012 as teachers were on strike, Rauner outlined a long-term plan to try to split “good teachers” from organized labor’s grasp using the issues of evaluations and merit pay.