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Chicago Fire

Conjuring up memories of a similar battle of words in the 1980s, the Republican secretary of education and the Democratic mayor of Chicago recently traded criticisms of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Richard M. Daley

Speaking to educators gathered in his city on Oct. 23 for a Council of the Great City Schools conference, Mayor Richard M. Daley called the federal school improvement law an "unfunded mandate," and he urged the group's members to work together to revise it. More than 800 people attended the conference for the advocacy group that represents 61 of the nation's largest urban school systems.

While the law, and particularly its school choice provision, is "well-intended," the mayor said, it "confuses parents, stigmatizes schools, and creates logistical nightmares." Mayor Daley has had control of Chicago's 439,000-student school system since 1995.

Secretary of Education Rod Paige, who previously was the superintendent in Houston and once served as the secretary-treasurer of the Council of the Great City Schools, responded on Oct. 23 with an unusually direct press release about the mayor's remarks.

He criticized Mayor Daley for focusing on how "tough" the law is for adults rather than on the help it would provide for children.

"I would prefer that the mayor look for solutions instead of initiating a blame-game that will get us nowhere," the secretary said.

This is at least the second time that a Democratic Chicago mayor and a Republican secretary of education have squared off.

During a 1987 visit to the Windy City, William J. Bennett, then the secretary of education under President Reagan, declared that Chicago had the worst school system in the nation. He also suggested that giving parents vouchers to attend private schools would force the public schools to "shape up fast."

The late Harold Washington, then mayor, fired back, blaming some of the city's problems on federal budget cuts and calling Mr. Bennett the "caretaker of the dismantling of education all over the country." ("Bennett's Call Sealing Ginsburg's Fate Sets Off a Furor," Nov. 18, 1987.)

Mr. Bennett's criticism stung the city, but also helped spur efforts to improve the school system.

— Scoon Reid

Vol. 23, Issue 10, Page 28

Published in Print: November 5, 2003, as Federal File

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