Reforming Chicago's School Reform Coalition Scrambles to Fix Landmark Law Illinois Court Declared Unconstitutional

Article excerpt

CHICAGO'S landmark school reform process is too successful to let its newly determined unconstitutionality get in the way. At least, that's what proponents of reform hope.

The coalition of parents and business and community leaders who fought for passage of the Chicago School Reform Act two years ago is scrambling to fix the legislation. Even the Illinois Supreme Court, which issued the surprise ruling Nov. 30, has signaled that it will permit time for such action, to avoid undoing the progress made so far.

The ruling came in a lawsuit brought by the Chicago Principals Association. The principals argued (unsuccessfully) that the reform law unfairly deprived them of tenure.

But the court also declared the law unconstitutional because it violated the principle of one-man, one-vote.

The reform program took control of Chicago's 589 elementary and high schools out of the hands of the bloated, unresponsive Central Administration and turned it over to local school councils. The LSCs each have 11 members: the principal, six parents elected by parents, two community members elected by the community, and two teachers elected by the school's teachers and other employees.

The high court objected to giving parents more control over the makeup of the LSCs than members of the community who pay school taxes but don't have school children.

The decision came two months after the city celebrated its first year of operating under the new system. While all agree that it will take five years to see the effects of reform on student test scores, satisfaction with the schools has soared, particularly among black parents. Year of turmoil

The initial year was not without turmoil, as LSC members who lacked training for the job struggled to come up with budgets and school improvement plans. A full quarter of the council members resigned before the end of their two-year terms.

Members have been especially shocked by the court ruling after working long hours for no pay, receiving outside training for their jobs, and adapting to wide responsibility. They are stunned by the idea that the ruling invalidates their election.

In an October survey of 700 currently serving LSC members, 74 percent said their schools have been operating better, and 85 percent predicted that they will in the current school year. …