Policy Brief

Windy City Cloud Shadows Duncan

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Revelations that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan kept a log of calls from powerful people trying to get students into top Chicago high schools when he ran the school district have raised new questions about the city’s admissions practices.

Still, some observers said last week that the political standing of the former chief executive officer of the Chicago public schools probably will not suffer unless it is determined that he or his office pressured school authorities to admit specific students during his tenure.

“I would think that obviously you want to rule out the possibility of anyone acting to unduly influence admissions,” said William Trent, an education professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “That’s the bottom-line question.”

The Chicago Tribune reported last week that Mr. Duncan’s office had kept the log, which included calls from politicians and businesspeople, when he headed the nation’s third-largest school district from 2001 to 2009.

But Peter Cunningham, who is Secretary Duncan’s assistant secretary for communications and outreach, told the newspaper that Mr. Duncan’s district office never put pressure on schools or told them to consider one student over another. “It’s just a way to manage the information,” Mr. Cunningham said of the log.

School officials say the log tracked requests, but many students still weren’t admitted.

Dick Simpson, a University of Illinois at Chicago political science professor, said he didn’t immediately see a risk that the matter would grow into a full-blown scandal. “If they just kept a log, that’s fine,” he said.

James Sullivan, the school system’s inspector general, has been investigating admissions practices for months amid complaints the system is confusing and rigged in favor of clout-heavy Chicago residents.

Monique Bond, a district spokeswoman, said the school system has implemented tougher guidelines in recent weeks in a bid to ensure there's no favoritism in the application process.

Vol. 29, Issue 27, Page 21

Published in Print: March 31, 2010, as Windy City Cloud Shadows Duncan
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