Gov. Bruce Rauner once told some of Chicago’s wealthiest and most influential civic leaders that half of the Chicago Public Schools teachers “are virtually illiterate” and half of the city’s principals are “incompetent,” according to emails Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration released Thursday under a court order.
Rauner made the assertion five years ago when he was a wealthy private equity executive and an active participant in Chicago school reform. His emails were part of a discussion with affluent education reform activists connected to the Chicago Public Education Fund, including Penny Pritzker, now U.S. commerce secretary; billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin; Chicago investment executive Mellody Hobson; and Helen Zell, the wife of billionaire real estate magnate Sam Zell.
“Teacher evaluation is critically important, but in a massive bureaucracy with a hostile union, where 50% of principals are managerially incompetent and half of teachers are virtually illiterate, a complete multi-dimensional evaluation system with huge subjectivity in it will be attacked, manipulated and marginalized – the status quo will prevail,” Rauner wrote in a December 2011 email arguing for a strong system of teacher and principal evaluations in the district. “It’s much more critical that we develop a consistent, rigorous, objective, understandable measure and reporting system for student growth upon which all further evaluation of performance will depend.”
Asked about the governor’s characterization of Chicago educators, Rauner spokesman Lance Trover issued an apology.
“Significant change can be frustratingly slow; this is especially true in public education. Many of us, at one time or another, have sent hastily crafted emails containing inaccurate or intemperate statements,” Trover’s statement said in part. “This particular email was sent out of frustration at the pace of change in our public school system. The governor regrets writing it and apologizes to CPS educators for making an unfair, untrue comment.”
Rauner’s remarks were included in a batch of emails the Chicago Tribune requested from Emanuel’s office last year in connection with its reporting about a CPS principal training program at the center of former district Superintendent Barbara Byrd-Bennett’s federal fraud conviction last year.
The mayor’s office either heavily redacted some of the messages or withheld them entirely. The news organization then sued the Emanuel administration, and this week Cook County Judge Anna Demacopoulos ruled the mayor’s office largely had violated the state’s open records laws and ordered City Hall to turn over the emails.
The Rauner emails were included in the release because they included a reference to the SUPES Academy, and the Tribune had sought messages connected to the corrupt principal training organization.