The Mess in Chicago

The Chicago Board of Education voted to close 50 neighborhood schools.

I have difficulty understanding how closing of 50 schools at one time – the largest school closing in American history—will improve learning conditions better for low-income, inner-city students.  At best, it will save pennies in an estimated shortfall of between $665 million and $1 billion. It will destabilize up to 30,000 students and making many of them cross into vicious gang territory to attend rival schools. It will increase student’s travel time on buses, trains for up to two hours of traveling.  It will cause some students to walk longer distances, especially difficult during Chicago’s bitter winters. It would not promote good student attendance or safety. It will increase class size to over 30 students. The African-American community will bare 90 percent of the burden of the budget cuts.

Under the closure plan, 14 “closing” schools will remain open and so-called “welcoming” schools will be closed. For example, Sexton School is closing but nearby Fiske School is not. But Sexton has a bigger building than Fiske, so Fiske will actually be the school that is shuttered and Sexton will be renamed Fiske. In essence, the students at Fiske will have to relocate to Sexton’s building, though the name of the school will be Fiske and the teachers from Fiske will have priority for the jobs. The former students of Sexton will stay in their physical school building but be told that they are now at a new school called Fiske. The schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett did promise that students at closing schools would be transferred to higher performing schools. Both Fiske and Sexton are rated as having “Average” student growth, though both schools are rated “Far Below Average” for student performance.

I am not fighting to keep all schools in Chicago open. Some low-performing schools should be closed!  But closing so many schools at one time doesn’t make sense.  Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s has done some positive things into Chicago like creating a longer school day; this move to close so many schools isn’t one of them.