Obama’s SecEd manipulated school lists to favor powerful

posted at 10:12 am on March 23, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

Chicago Breaking News reported late last night that former Chicago schools chief and current Secretary of Education Arne Duncan manipulated a system to favor powerful political allies by placing their children in the schools of their choice.  The discovery of a  list, the existence of which had been long denied by the city, and its composition of mainly high-powered political figures calls into question the appeals system used to reconsider applications that had been denied by the top Chicago-area schools:

While many Chicago parents took formal routes to land their children in the best schools, the well-connected also sought help through a shadowy appeals system created in recent years under former schools chief Arne Duncan.

Whispers have long swirled that some children get spots in the city’s premier schools based on whom their parents know. But a list maintained over several years in Duncan’s office and obtained by the Tribune lends further evidence to those charges. Duncan is now secretary of education under President Barack Obama.

The log is a compilation of politicians and influential business people who interceded on behalf of children during Duncan’s tenure. It includes 25 aldermen, Mayor Richard Daley’s office, House Speaker Michael Madigan, his daughter Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, former White House social secretary Desiree Rogers and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun. …

The list surfaced amid a federal probe and an internal investigation into admissions practices at the city’s top high schools. Until Monday, the district had not revealed it had kept such a list.

The list was maintained by a top Duncan aide, David Pickens, currently chief of staff to the president of the Chicago Board of Education. Pickens said he created the log at Duncan’s behest to track the flood of calls pouring into district offices from parents, politicians and business leaders trying to navigate the system’s mysterious and maligned application process.

But Pickens acknowledged the list was kept confidential. The vast majority of parents who follow the system’s school application process never knew they could appeal to Duncan’s office for special consideration.

Why not?  Pickens said that they “didn’t want a bunch of people calling.”  No, apparently Duncan and his staff only wanted certain people calling — people like the Madigans, Mosely Braun, and so on.  The kind of people who could do something for Duncan, like perhaps push his own political career forward until he got a spot like … Secretary of Education.

This is bald corruption.  Having a secret process that only the powerful know to get preferential treatment for their children is the antithesis of openness and transparency.  It turned Chicago schools and their admission process from an open competition to another spoils process in the Chicago Machine.  It’s not surprising, given the rampant corruption in the Windy City, but it is disgusting.  Parents of children who got aced out of a spot in the school of their choice now have to assume that Duncan and his team gamed the system, putting children at a disadvantage in order  to gain political favor for themselves.

Anyone participating in that system should leave public service immediately, including Duncan himself.  Will Mr. Hope and Change keep Duncan as part of his White House team and endorse this patronage system built on the backs of children?


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