As former CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, Arne Duncan and President Barack Obama have known each other for some time. Duncan has been billed by some as a reformer for his efforts to turn around the nation’s beleaguered, third largest school district. He supported charter schools and performance pay, upsetting teachers unions and bureaucrats in the process. His appointment as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education gave some observers hope that as president, Obama might not be as beholden to the government education establishment as he was during his state and federal legislative career.
Now, evidence is emerging that hundreds of school children were beaten during Duncan’s tenure as chief, which began in 2001. According to a CBS-2 Chicago investigative report, 818 students allege being battered by school personnel since 2003, and at least 568 of those claims were found to be credible by the school district. Most of the victims were in grades K-8, and endured abuse at the hands of a teacher, aide, coach, security guard or principal. Corporal punishment is illegal in the state of Illinois.
The news station informed Duncan of their findings before he became education secretary. Award-winning reporter Dave Savini has the story:
“If someone hits a student, they are going to be fired. It’s very, very simple,” Duncan said. Before heading to Washington, he vowed to take action. “Any founded allegation where an adult is hitting a child, hitting a student – they’re going to be gone,” Duncan said.
But that’s not what happened under Duncan’s watch. Of the 568 verified cases, only 24 led to termination. Records show one teacher who quote “battered students for several years” was simply given a “warning” by the Board of Education.
So what’s the point?
The point is, why have we not heard about this before? Why was it not brought up in nomination hearings? Exactly why were only 24 teachers let go? No doubt they were protected by the teachers unions….but did Duncan stand up against the unions in this case, or did he roll over for them? What specifically did he do to see that adults who hit kids in public schools were removed from those schools?
Believe me, I know full well Obama could have done a lot worse than choosing Duncan as his education czar. And no doubt managing the Chicago public school system would be a nightmare – there are inevitable failures and disappointments that come with a post like that. But these are some questions worth asking of our nation’s highest ranking education official.