The Tiers of a Clown

09/23/2010 11:17 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Good morning, kids. My name is Ron Huberman and -- for the time being -- I'm still the Chief Executive Officer of Chicago Public Schools. Thanks for inviting me out to Philip Rogers Elementary School today.

I want to start out this morning by talking a little bit about secrets. Right? Suppose you told one of your close friends a secret, and then you learned a few days later that your friend had shared that secret with everybody in your neighborhood. How would that make you feel? Not very good, I bet.

Well, something like that happened to me just a couple of weeks ago. I had my own secret. Right? In fact, it was my very own super-secret report card that gave a grade to every public school in Chicago. Unfortunately, my super-secret report card didn't stay secret for long. Word on the street is that somebody from my office gave that report card to a newspaper reporter from the Chicago Tribune.

And you can be sure Mayor Daley wasn't too happy about that. Mayor Daley knows how important it is to keep secrets.

In any event, I'm here today because you kids at Rogers were actually the good part of my secret. If you haven't already heard the news, my consultant friends and I gave your school a grade of "A." Right? So I wanted to come out and congratulate all of you on your fine work.

You should really be proud of yourselves -- particularly because Rogers is a neighborhood school. You kids didn't take a test to get in here. 

Now, there weren't a lot of high grades on my super-secret report card. In fact, only 10% of the grade schools in the entire city earned an "A." Right? I gave almost half of Chicago's grade schools a "D" or an "F."

And your grade of "A" is extra-special for another reason. Word on the street is that a lot of you kids haven't had particularly easy lives. In fact, 70% of you kids at Rogers come from what we at CPS call "low-income" households. That means that money's probably a little tight at home. You might not have a fancy computer in your bedroom, and your folks probably can't shell out the big dollars to send you to Stanley Kaplan test preparation classes like some other kids you know. Right?

But despite those challenges, you've shown everyone in this city that you can do top-flight work in the classroom. Give yourselves a round of applause, kids, because you earned that "A."

That's the good news. 

Now here's the bad news. You can't stay at your neighborhood grade school forever. So let me tell you a little bit about your neighborhood high school.  Mather High School earned a grade of "D" on my secret report card. Of course, that's not all bad because last year I gave the school an "F."

Bottom line is this -- enjoy grade school, kids. 

Thanks so much for having me out today. And before I head back downtown, I'll be happy to take a couple of questions.

Student:  Do we have to go to Mather? Can't we go to one of the really good high schools like Payton or Northside Prep?

Huberman:  In theory you can certainly go to one of those schools.  You just need to score high enough on the entrance exam. Right? But here's the problem.  You're going to have to score really high. 

Student:  Why's that, Mr. Huberman?

Huberman:  Because you kids are lucky enough to live in Census Tracts 020200 and 020300. Right?  Those are what we at CPS call "Tier 4" census tracts.  That means you and your families live in one of the most desirable Tiers in Chicago. We're talking Fat City. Not everyone is as lucky as you kids are.  Right? That's why, if you're tied point-for-point with a Tier 3 kid for a seat at one of the selective enrollment high schools, our system is going to give the edge to that Tier 3 kid. That kid probably hasn't had all the breaks in life that you've had.

Student:  But, Mr. Huberman, I thought you just said that 70% of us kids at Rogers School come from low-income families and haven't had easy lives.

Huberman:  This is census data, kiddo.  It doesn't lie.

Student:  Well, is there anything we can do to give ourselves a better shot at getting into one of the city's good high schools?

Huberman:  Sure, you and your family can move to a Tier 3 neighborhood.

Student:  Where would that be? 

Huberman:  You'd be surprised.  If you can find something on my block (Census Tract 040900) near the $900,000 home I recently bought on West Wilson Avenue, you'll be in Tier 3.  Or if you can find a place on Rahm Emanuel's million dollar block (Census Tract 60200) on North Hermitage Avenue, you'll also be in Tier 3.

Student:  That seems crazy.  So if you or Rahm wanted to send kids to one of Chicago's selective enrollment high schools, CPS would give your kids a scoring advantage over us low-income Tier 4 kids from Rogers?

Huberman:  Crazy, isn't it? But look on the bright side. Chances are good that a lot of you low-income kids live in the apartment buildings in this neighborhood, and not in the bungalows. Think of how much easier it will be for your family to pack up and move to the suburbs if you don't get accepted to the high school of your choosing. It'd be a lot harder for your family to skip town if you had to worry about selling a house in this lousy market. Right?