Duncan’s Role in Elite School Access Questioned

By Dakarai I. Aarons — March 25, 2010 1 min read
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Arne Duncan’s staff kept a list of the well-connected who wanted to get their children into some of Chicago’s most selective high schools, an investigation by The Chicago Tribune newspaper has found.

Duncan, his wife, and his mother have all appeared on lists as the sole sponsor seeking help for students seeking access, the paper reported.

“We didn’t want to advertise what we were doing because we didn’t want a bunch of people calling,” David Pickens, a Duncan aide who maintained the list and is now the school board president’s chief of staff, told the Tribune.

The news comes as multiple investigations, some internal, some federal, look into spending and other issues in the 408,000-student school district. We’ve told you previously about some of the ongoing investigations into questionable uses of taxpayer dollars and other resources.

While the practice has raised eyebrows, the former Windy City schools CEO and current U.S. Secretary of Education has not been accused of wrongdoing. He has been interviewed by the school district’s inspector general about the issue.

The district’s system for choosing students for its most selective schools has long come under fire for being too subjective and placing too much power in the hands of principals.

The Tribune has been investigating how influential people have used their clout in Illinois educational institutions for more than a year. Their investigation so far has led to the departure of top University of Illinois officials in an a matter unrelated to the CPS investigations.

Those on the list of contacts made Duncan’s office include the nephew of Mayor Richard M. Daley, who has control over Chicago’s schools. Daley has said his office plaid no role in the admissions jockeying.

To date, the Tribune says Duncan has remained mum on the list. “We never pressured principals or told them what to do or said this person needs to be considered over this person,” Duncan’s chief spokesperson then and now, Peter Cunningham, told the Tribune this week. “It’s just a way to manage the information.”

The story has attracted notice from The Washington Post and The New York Times, among others.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.