Questions Arise Over Whether Brizard Actually Raised Graduation Rates

CHICAGO (CBS) — Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel today defended what to some was a controversial choice to run Chicago’s public schools.

Meantime, Jean Claude Brizard, told reporters in Rochester, N.Y., that he decided to leave his post as the schools’ chief there in part because he said he was becoming a lightning rod for critics of reform.

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There are new questions about how effective those reform measures were–especially when it came to improving graduation rates.

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There appears to be a difference of opinion on whether Brizard really did increase the graduation rate in Rochester as Emanuel claimed when he introduced him as the new schools CEO on Monday, CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports.

“J.C.’s leadership put Rochester schools on a new path,” Emanuel said at the time. “Graduation rates climbed from 39 percent to 51 percent in three years under his leadership.”

However, the 39 percent graduation rate cited by Emanuel was for 2006, two years before Brizard got there.

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By the time Brizard arrived 2008, that rate had increased to 52 percent. In June, 2010, an estimated 51 percent of seniors graduated. So while we won’t know Brizard’s full impact for another year or so, graduation rates while he was there actually declined slightly.

Was the incoming mayor misled about the numbers?

“No, in fact they have improved and I am comfortable,” Emanuel said on Wednesday. “Look folks, I understand politics and some people he was tough on … have a political opportunity to finally to settle the score.

“What I won’t settle for, what I will not settle for is what we have here in Chicago.”

Brizard, who mirrors the mayor-elect’s positions on teacher accountability, charter schools and other issues, wasn’t allowed to speak to reporters in Chicago on Monday. He did hold a news conference in Rochester on Wednesday, where he admitted he hadn’t pleased everyone.

“I was becoming a lightning rod for wonderful work that had to continue and you had to look at the opportunity being presented to you. Again I never went out to look for another opportunity. It came and it was one my family and I seized.”

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Emanuel underscored the fact that he’s looking for a reformer to fix “the status quo” in Chicago schools, who may upset some educators along the way.