A Sad Vision of Charter Schools for Illinois

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Tony Smith – charged with implementing the governor’s vision of charter schools in Illinois

During the closing keynote of the Network for Public Education’s conference, Diane Ravitch shared with the audience a story about an exchange she had in 2012 with Bruce Rauner when she was in Chicago to receive the Kohl Education Prize award. The exchange took place during dinner that evening. Below is a transcript of what Ravitch told us:

 “… I was seated across from Bruce Rauner and I had no idea he was going to run for governor. And we began to have a heated discussion about charter schools because the Noble Network, which he is a part of, names schools for individual rich people so there’s a Bruce Rauner Charter School, there’s a Penny Pritzer Charter School… I don’t know of other rich people in Chicago but they all have their own names on charter schools.

So I said ‘Do you think it’s right that your school doesn’t accept kids with disabilities? He said, ‘Why would we?’

I said, ‘What about the kids who are English Language Learners?’

He said, ‘Those kids are not my problem.’

He said, ‘I want the kids who are going to succeed. I want the kids who are motivated. I want the kids who are going to be successful. I don’t want those kids.’

I said, ‘What are we going to do with them?’

He said, ‘I don’t know, it’s not my problem.’

That’s the governor of Illinois.”

Ravitch is the pre-eminent historian of the American education system so I have no reason to doubt her recollection of the conversation. Rauner just had his buddy Anthony “Tony” Smith hired as the head of the Illinois State Board of Education. Smith was superintendent of the Oakland, CA school district but has never been a teacher or school-level administrator. While in Oakland Smith worked hard to increase the number of charter schools there. He’ll be the perfect state school chief to implement Rauner’s vision of charter schools in Illinois.