Richard M. Daley, who has served as Chicago’s mayor for 21 years, announced Tuesday he will not run for re-election in 2011.
The announcement was widely viewed as a surprise among political observers. Daley has not only had an outsize influence on America’s politics, but also its education system.
For the majority of his term as mayor, Daley has also had control of the nation’s third-largest school district. The Illinois legislature granted him the power to appoint the district’s chief executive officer in 1995 (he already had some control over its school board from a 1989 reform law) and he appointed a team later that summer.
Daley’s leadership of the school district has been both praised and panned. One of his signature initiatives, Renaissance 2010, which closed low-performing schools and opened new charter and contract schools across the city, has been the subject of increased criticism from those who say the district’s school closings and transformation plans have stoked neighborhood tensions.
His first two school leaders, Paul Vallas and Arne Duncan, went on to become national education figures in their own right: Vallas as the leader of Philadelphia schools and then New Orleans’ post-Hurricane Katrina school system and Duncan as President Barack Obama’s education secretary.
Chicago-style school reform has loomed large in Obama administration policy, but reports continue to show a mixed bag of results for those reforms. The plague of school violence against school-aged Chicagoans prompted presidential attention.
For more on the history of Chicago school reform, check out this handy timeline from Catalyst Chicago.
Who will take Daley’s place? The political universe is waiting to see if Chicagoan and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel will run. He’s expressed interest in the job in the past.
What will Daley’s impending retirement mean for the city’s schools? Too early to tell, but you know we’ll be watching.
[UPDATE (5:29 p.m.): A pair of retrospectives on Daley’s schools legacy with differing opinions.
RiShawn Biddle of Dropout Nation says Daley, whose record includes successes and failures, helped reshape the conversation about what must be done to improve urban education and forced other mayors to take a larger role in education.
Meanwhile, Chicagoan Mike Klonsky wishes the veteran mayor good riddance,saying the mayor turned the school district into yet another avenue for patronage and top-down policies.]
A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.