CHICAGO (CBS) — Mayor Rahm Emanuel was applauding Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett for blasting her critics who labeled the district’s school closing plan “racist.”

WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports the mayor said Thursday he knows people will face difficulty as schools close, and they might feel some outrage. But he said they ought to be outraged that 56 percent of African American students still drop out of school.

The mayor said Byrd-Bennett is right to push for big changes by seeking to close 53 schools and 61 school buildings at the end of the school year.

“I stand behind her 100 percent,” Emanuel said, praising his schools chief for speaking “quite eloquently” about the volatile issue of school closings.

Emanuel pointedly criticized Chicago Teachers Union political activities director Stacy Davis Gates, who could not give an answer earlier this week when aldermen asked her what the union was willing to sacrifice to keep schools open.

“What I won’t accept is when people are asked ‘What’s your alternative, what’s your idea?’ and there’s silence. The status quo cannot handle silence,” he said. “Let me be really clear: the status quo is unacceptable. The status quo is failing way too many kids. It’s unacceptable, and it can’t not only be met with silence, it has to be met with action.”

The Mayor was speaking at Wilbur Wright College, where he said the City Colleges of Chicago spend millions of dollars on remedial courses to help students learn what the public schools should have taught them already.