EdTalks: Rethinking School Closings

Though we had a discussion on school closings last quarter, there have been many developments in CPS since then, including a change of CEO, new list of rumored closings, and outside recommendations. Since the new list of schools slated for closings will be released on March 31st, we wanted to revisit this topic as it becomes more and more relevant.

We began with our initial reactions and general thoughts on school closings. One of the first things to come up was the impact that a closing has on its students, especially those whose lives are already filled with instability. We talked about how new schools may be farther away, which can add stress to families and possibly negatively influence the safety of students. Because schools are often centers for community integration and gathering, the closing of a school can dissolve the feeling of community and take away a stabilizing base. We also discussed how the consolidation of different districts and areas can increase violence in schools because of different gang affiliations.

We debated some of the positive opportunities that can come out of school closings. If there are schools repeatedly underperforming, underutilized and/or overcrowded, and otherwise failing its students, a school closing can consolidate resources, give students a chance to go to a better school, and even allow for rebuilding.

In theory, a school closing can be extremely beneficial to students, communities, and neighborhoods. However, we talked about the actual impacts of closings in practice, and we found that closings don’t always lead to better situations. A report released by the Consortium for Chicago School Research found that only 6% of students whose elementary schools closed between 2001-2006 ended up at top schools (http://216.78.200.159/Documents/RandD/Other/Chicago%20School%20Closings%20Impact%20Minimal%20-%20Chicago%20Tribune.pdf). A main goal of school closings is to send students in failing schools to better ones, but often that doesn’t happen.

We looked at the recommendations given by the commission on school closings created by Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the current CEO of CPS. Their recommendations included:

* Leave high schools off the list

* Don’t close level 1 schools

* Don’t close schools that are close to “efficient”

* Hold charter schools to district standards

While it is uncertain which ones will ultimately be followed, Byrd-Bennett has stated that she is willing to follow all of them.

We also looked at the CPS utilization formula, which is used to calculate whether or not a school is underutilized. The formula is as follows:

Total number of homerooms x 30 students = “ideal enrollment”

Since the 30 student standard is actually the midpoint of an acceptable range of numbers, we discussed the validity/impact of the formula on schools. (See http://cpsutilization.kalov.net/alt for an interesting map of the categorization of Chicago schools)

Lastly, we talked about different steps CPS can take towards closing schools, and also potential alternatives to school closings. Ultimately, it came down to the problem that kids leaving bad schools are not going to better ones. In this case, school closings don’t seem to be providing a solution; they are treating a symptom of failing districts and schools.

There needs to be transparency between CPS and communities, and there needs to be viable alternative solutions, but in the end, the problem behind school closings is greater than underused resources or overcrowded classrooms. Until there is significant education reform, schools will keep failing faster than they can be closed and rebuilt.

Upcoming events related to school closings:

There will be community meetings through early March for neighborhoods to voice their opinions to CPS. Some upcoming ones:

Burnham Park network – February 4th, 7-9 PM at St. Anselm Church

Skyway network – February 7th, 7-9 PM at Our Lady of Peace Rectory

Englewood-Gresham – February 18th, 7-9 PM at Liberation Christian Center For a full list of meetings, please visit http://ragenglewood.org/2013/01/31/let-your-voice-be-heard-cps-public-meetings-about-school-closing-englewood-meeting-saturday-at-kkc/.

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