Join 3,495 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


"Our city is under siege right now."
March 27, 2013 4:21 PM   Subscribe

The Chicago Public School system has announced it will close 54 elementary and middle schools before next year.

An additional 6 schools will be placed on turnaround status, and 11 more schools merged with others. 61 buildings are being shuttered altogether. Here's an interactive map of the school closings, shown in correlation to poverty levels in Chicago.

90% of students who will be affected by the closing school are black, which the Emanuel administration claims is due to "underutilization" of those schools. The Chicago Teacher's Union put out a paper (pdf, 52 pages) last November that dissects and refutes the administration's reasons for closing these schools, and discusses the heavy racial bias inherent in an education policy built on privatization, calling it Educational Apartheid. Black ministers around the city are calling the move nothing more than a land grab for cheap real estate, although WBEZ points out that the school closures will take place in neighbourhood already blighted with abandoned property and vacant land.

This move is thought to be part of the Obama administration's wider mandate to close down failing schools in favour of private charter schools. The school closings was a key component of the union negotiations that led to the teacher's strike in November, previously posted about here.

The announcement has sparked a wildfire of protests in the Chicago Loop, with over 150 arrests for civil disobedience so far. Follow the #cpsclosings hashtag for live updates and gruelling photos. Here is the full list of schools that will be closed.
posted by Phire (62 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
I guess ... it's not racism if Democrats do it?
posted by Avenger at 4:37 PM on March 27, 2013 [12 favorites]


Wow. CPS might be correct in claiming that the shuttered schools had some empty rooms, but are there really enough empty rooms available in existing ones to absorb 54 schools' worth of kids?
posted by threeants at 4:37 PM on March 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


.
posted by Catchfire at 4:38 PM on March 27, 2013


1000 teachers will be fired according to the teachers union.
16,000 kids will have to go to a different school next year.
numbers found here.
posted by garlic at 4:42 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well, if the neighborhoods are full of abandoned property, then are populations of kids actually the size in those places that they were when they schools were built?

I mean, I find the closings of schools to be sad, but if you're going to characterize the neighborhoods as in population decline, it seems inevitable.
posted by gracedissolved at 4:43 PM on March 27, 2013


I was admittedly shocked just now, checking on utilization rates in the interactive map, that many of these schools are only operating at 30-40% capacity. Obviously a problem, but this seems like a huge wasted opportunity for the City of Chicago. They own the buildings/land outright, no? Why not turn unused parts of the schools into administrative offices, community meeting spaces, free or discounted office space for nonprofits?
posted by threeants at 4:44 PM on March 27, 2013 [11 favorites]


Chicago Public Schools is promising big amenities at receiving schools, like air conditioning in every classroom, iPads for all third through eighth graders, libraries for schools that don't have one, and new books. They’re also offering schools money for tutoring and mentors.

This just jumped out at me: excuse my naiveté, but does this mean that it's a normal thing for Chicago elementary schools to go without libraries, books, and air conditioning? Jesus.
posted by jokeefe at 4:53 PM on March 27, 2013 [25 favorites]


threeants, apparently the low utilization rate is because rooms that should be labs or libraries and so on are shuttered because there are no funds. This looks like a strategy of deliberately starving the schools and then using that as an excuse to fire the teachers and hand over contracts to charter schools.
posted by jokeefe at 4:56 PM on March 27, 2013 [28 favorites]


And also, while wasted space capacity seems like a legitimate concern, I'm not particularly sympathetic to the alleged problem of "oh no! class sizes are getting too small!"
posted by threeants at 4:57 PM on March 27, 2013 [8 favorites]


Yes, it's common. Many (most?) of the older schools don't have air conditioning because (their logic, not mine) is there's no school in the summer.
posted by _Mona_ at 4:57 PM on March 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


threeants, apparently the low utilization rate is because rooms that should be labs or libraries and so on are shuttered because there are no funds.

Ah, I assumed these rates were based on classrooms, not overall square footage. Geeze.
posted by threeants at 4:58 PM on March 27, 2013


the WBEZ link on the population change in the neighborhoods overtime is interesting. Austin has lost 15% of it's population from 1990 to 2010. West Englewood has lost 48%, Englewood has lost 58% of it's population. West Garfield park, 33%.
posted by garlic at 5:03 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


It turns out the only contract in the city of chicago that doesn't have brutal penalty clauses is the social contract.
posted by srboisvert at 5:06 PM on March 27, 2013 [15 favorites]


Fantastic post, Phire. Thank you.

I didn't notice this amongst the poverty-map links (apologies if I missed it): Closures overlayed on homicide heatmap.

......................................................
posted by Westringia F. at 5:09 PM on March 27, 2013 [9 favorites]


sun times article on the protest and closings. As is usual, don't read the comments.
posted by garlic at 5:13 PM on March 27, 2013


threeants, apparently the low utilization rate is because rooms that should be labs or libraries and so on are shuttered because there are no funds.

Are you sure about that? I looked at the interactive map, and most of the schools I was clicking on had an enrollment around 300 students.

The overall data (from Wikipedia) for CPS says 400,000 students in 600 buildings. That would be on average ~670 per building. Which means that enrollment wise, these schools are far below the average.

I wasn't able to find the capacity of these buildings with any quick googling however. And it would be helpful to see a comparison of enrollment between in danger schools and model schools.
posted by sbutler at 5:13 PM on March 27, 2013


jokeefe: Yes, air-conditioning is a rarity. Even though temperatures routinely go above 90 in June.

sbutler: School sizes vary. Just because a school has fewer students doesn't mean it is necessarily underutilized.

The district's process is far from transparent, so how can we trust their numbers?

Not to mention that there is some data that suggest that students do better in smaller schools, middle-school-aged students especially, because the school community can be more closely-knit.

Many charter schools, maybe a majority, have fewer than 350 students.
posted by mai at 5:40 PM on March 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Also, the average includes high schools, which tend to be larger, while the majority of the schools on the list slated for closing are k-8.
posted by mai at 5:42 PM on March 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


the WBEZ link on the population change in the neighborhoods overtime is interesting. Austin has lost 15% of it's population from 1990 to 2010. West Englewood has lost 48%, Englewood has lost 58% of it's population. West Garfield park, 33%.

Yes, the African-American population of the city has declined, especially so in low-income neighborhoods.

There are a couple reasons for this:

*These neighborhoods have high crime rates. People who can afford to move out usually chose to.

*Chicago tore down tens of thousands of units of public housing in the last decade. Much of it in these neighborhoods. Those residents often moved to the south suburbs, where rent is cheaper.

However, I would argue that the children who still live in these neighborhoods need their schools more than ever, that rather than shuttering them we should invest in them even more since they serve the neediest in our city.
posted by mai at 5:46 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


As is usual, don't read the comments.

I know, I know, but this was hilarious:
Fire all these teachers who were at the rally. They should be at work. Time to clean house at CPS; start over, fire them all.
Spring Break, I guess that shows how much you know about what's going on in CPS.
posted by desjardins at 5:48 PM on March 27, 2013 [9 favorites]


"Our city is under siege right now."

Please. Catastrophe language doesn't help. Aleppo is "under siege." Stephen Seagal is "under siege." Chicago is not under siege.

1000 teachers will be fired according to the teachers union.

There are 23,290 teachers in CPS. There are 404,151 students. That's a 17-to-1 ratio overall.

Firing 1,000 teachers (four percent) will result in an 18-to-1 ratio.

16,000 kids will have to go to a different school next year.

And yet, without accounting for any normal movement because of families changing where they live, 100 percent of all typical students will change schools twice, and sometimes three times, during their K-12 school careers.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:52 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not on CPS's side but I can answer a couple questions from an administration perspective:

"Wow. CPS might be correct in claiming that the shuttered schools had some empty rooms, but are there really enough empty rooms available in existing ones to absorb 54 schools' worth of kids?"

CPS is ginormous, with 681 schools and 404,000 students. The peak for school building occupancy in most places was during the Baby Boom years in the 60s, and then an echo boom in the 80s; a lot of districts now have extraneous buildings (or at least extraneous space), and a lot of districts have had population shifts that leave too much capacity in the wrong places.

"this seems like a huge wasted opportunity for the City of Chicago. They own the buildings/land outright, no? Why not turn unused parts of the schools into administrative offices, community meeting spaces, free or discounted office space for nonprofits?"


A lot of the buildings are pretty expensive to run and maintain. In Peoria we've been selling some buildings, or looking into arrangements to allow other agencies to use them, and there just aren't any takers. We sold a huge building on a big piece of land in a dense part but depressed of the city -- it went for $10 at auction, and not only is nobody using it, but the salvage guy who bought it decided it isn't even worth the cost to take salvage out of it. It's sitting there being a fire trap and I'm sure an attractive nuisance for local kids being stupid.

The other issue is that land that public bodies own aren't on the tax rolls, and that's really tough for large urban districts that are landlocked (can't grow by acquiring more land because other cities/school districts butt up against all their borders), especially if they have a lot of blighted areas.

"This just jumped out at me: excuse my naiveté, but does this mean that it's a normal thing for Chicago elementary schools to go without libraries, books, and air conditioning? Jesus."

Oh, God yes. In Peoria we're looking at around $34 million to air condition around a dozen elementary schools only. It's not cheap. The older kids will still sweat it out during summer school, if they're in year-round school, and during heat waves. We run a shortened-day "heat schedule" where they start school at 7 a.m. and finish at around 1 p.m., often for a full week or two at the beginning of the year, and then whenever it's nasty hot out. We also get a lot of narrative around, "When I went to school we just sweated! These kids don't need air conditioning!" Well, when you went to school there weren't expensive electronics all over the place needing cool air and throwing off heat, and the windows still opened -- windows have long since been sealed for energy savings -- and doors could be open for cross-breezes, which is a security risk. We have kids in buildings 80 years old with three floors and no opening windows. (Actually, the oldest non-opening-window building may be 60 now, not sure.)

We have 98,000 textbooks for 14,000 students. There aren't generally specific dollars allocated to textbook purchasing, and it comes out of what's called the "ed fund" in Illinois, which pays for teachers, textbooks, consumables, etc. Our budgets are so close to the bone, and state aid is so far behind and getting cut so hard, that it literally comes down to reducing teacher headcount to buy textbooks. (Textbook manufacturer bullshit that drives up prices is a whole different set of complaints.) It's really easy to let textbooks get older and older and older without updating, and some get lost and you can't get the old editions any more but if you start getting new ones you have to buy a whole new set ...
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:06 PM on March 27, 2013 [33 favorites]


Regarding the effectiveness of small classes (PDF). Skip to the very bottom of page 251.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 6:12 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Time to clean house at CPS; start over, fire them all."

That's interesting in that it is virtually the same language that filled the newspaper comment sections here in Ontario over the last few months of our teacher labour issues.

I lost track of the number of times I read that I should be fired or given the "Reagan treatment".
posted by davey_darling at 6:16 PM on March 27, 2013


Regarding the effectiveness of small classes (PDF). Skip to the very bottom of page 251.

The section talks about school size, but it doesn't seem to mention classes at all.
posted by threeants at 6:17 PM on March 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Ack. Misread. Retracted.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 6:20 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


"I guess ... it's not racism if Democrats do it?"

Heh. The Boss would love hearing you say that. Chicago being a one-party town hasn't kept it from being wildly racist.

"There are 23,290 teachers in CPS. There are 404,151 students. That's a 17-to-1 ratio overall.

Firing 1,000 teachers (four percent) will result in an 18-to-1 ratio.
"

One of the missing things from doing straight calculations like this — and from the school funding debates in general — is that special ed classes and regular ed are different, and a lot of special ed classes have drastically lower class sizes. They're also a lot more expensive, in general, to run, and the mainstreaming of many students that would have been institutionalized a generation ago has led to a pretty sizable increase in cost for schools. It's one of those things that gets overlooked all the time — I think mainstreaming is, in large part, a good thing for the schools and students, but it comes with a large price tag that people ignore and it's a pretty huge budget distortion.
posted by klangklangston at 6:46 PM on March 27, 2013 [9 favorites]


I hope they can retain/repurpose the closed school buildings.

Why not turn unused parts of the schools into administrative offices, community meeting spaces, free or discounted office space for nonprofits?

Granted I don't live in your country, but mixing a school for children with anything else in the same building seems like a no-go in the US. I went with a friend to pick up his daughter from school in Spokane once, and the stranger danger fearmongering was extreme. The students lined up along a fence and the parents had to come up one at a time.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 6:51 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Why not turn unused parts of the schools into administrative offices, community meeting spaces, free or discounted office space for nonprofits?


I can't think of a single K-12 school district in America that would dream of doing that during school hours (renting out space after hours is routine). Parents would eat them alive.

Many elementary schools nowadays have cameras on practically blast-proof doors. During school hours, you have to walk up to the camera, state your name and business, and then they might buzz you in!
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 7:00 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


"but mixing a school for children with anything else in the same building seems like a no-go in the US."

It depends on the building and the ability to control access. Full Service Community Schools, for example, may physically host various community organizations and services, but the buildings are typically purpose-built or expensively refitted. It's not just paranoia; there are a lot of issues around parking, transit, community impact (schools are often in residential neighborhoods that may not be welcoming to late-evening activities, for example), bathrooms, ADA access, and well as student safety and discipline. (Benign example, from before big school violence fears, like 30 years ago: some communities used to host polling stations in school lobbies but moved them to other places because the kids would be unteachable all day on election day because it was so exciting with people coming and going.)

We have a school with a community health clinic (run by an outside hospital) that's open not just to students but to parents and families, during school hours but also during some non-school hours. It has separate parking and access and can be closed off from the rest of the school. Another one of our schools hosts as cosmetology program with a salon open to the public. Again, separate parking, separate entrance, controlled access. Some schools lend themselves really well to this -- larger schools that have had several additions that may be a little awkward to use as schools because the wings of the school are weirdly separated and choke student movement are particularly good, because the wings can become independent "buildings." (They're also popular for the school-within-a-school movement for the same reason.)

But some of these buildings are old, un-air-conditioned, hard to adapt to things other than schools, have bathrooms with kid-sized toilets, no elevators -- how many organizations is that attractive to?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:16 PM on March 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


with respect, i honestly think it is impossible to even begin to understand what's going on in Chicago unless you've lived there for a long time and have done a lot of traveling in areas where people with money do not ever go.

chicago is an almost completely segregated city. there are gigantic ghettos there, where no white people live, where everyone lives below the poverty line, where children go to sleep hungry, that are filled with block after block after block of empty lots, garbage, open drug trade, burned-out buildings, empty factories. these areas are as big as entire cities. west garfield park? it is a gigantic racial ghetto, where people are murdered on the street constantly. it's like i'm exaggerating or being hysterical, but no, that's how it is. i promise you that if you found yourself on foot in west garfield park, your very first thought would be "ok this is not safe, i need to get the fuck out of here right now." i used to work there, i am speaking from experience.

the schools that are closing are largely in these ghettos. the map superimposing a heat-map of murders on top of the school closures that someone linked to above shows this very clearly. chicago has utterly neglected its ghettos and the people who live in them for many decades. most of these areas have been very, very damaged and unliveable since at least the end of world war ii, certainly by the late 60's. if you've never been, you would be pretty blown away. there are areas that are just as bad, but not worse, in new york, baltimore, detroit, and a few other u.s. cities. but really the next stratum below chicago is occupied by the massive urban slums of brazil and india.
posted by facetious at 7:22 PM on March 27, 2013 [26 favorites]


chicago is an almost completely segregated city. there are gigantic ghettos there, where no white people live, where everyone lives below the poverty line, where children go to sleep hungry, that are filled with block after block after block of empty lots, garbage, open drug trade, burned-out buildings, empty factories.

This map illustrates how racially segregated Chicago is. Frankly, I'd say that it's the most segregated city in America. Contrast with, say, Queens, New York, where racial and ethnic enclaves sort of bleed into each other at the edges. In Chicago there are White neighborhoods, Black neighborhoods, and Hispanic neighborhoods, full stop, and they end very abruptly at boundaries everyone knows about.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 7:38 PM on March 27, 2013 [11 favorites]


It's not just Chicago that's closing schools public schools left and right in poor and primarily black or Latino neighborhoods. Washington DC's closing fifteen schools this year. (Before you comment that fifteen isn't that many, remember that DC proper only has 600,000-some people.) Philadelphia's looking at 31 closures. I can't find maps correlating those closures to neighborhood poverty, like the one linked above for Chicago, but having lived in both places I can tell you that the correlation's there.

It's funny how politicians wring their hands about generational poverty in "those neighborhoods," then turn right around and close down the schools, which in theory are one of the major mechanisms that can help lift kids out. If you're gonna espouse all kinds of Horatio Alger bootstraps bullshit about how anyone can succeed with the right educational choices, shouldn't keeping schools open be your highest priority?
posted by ActionPopulated at 8:06 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Frankly, I'd say that it's the most segregated city in America.

Haha, sorry, nice try. *waves from Milwaukee*
posted by desjardins at 8:11 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


>>threeants, apparently the low utilization rate is because rooms that should be labs or libraries and so on are shuttered because there are no funds.

Are you sure about that? I looked at the interactive map, and most of the schools I was clicking on had an enrollment around 300 students.


In the first link of the post, I came across this, which addresses the issue specifically:
The board’s rationale for closing schools has changed from month to month. The original reason was what it called too many “empty seats,” claiming that CPS had lost 145,000 students between the 2000 and 2010 censuses. But the correct figure, it turned out, was only 30,000.

If the targeted schools have empty rooms, Ritter explained, it’s because, unlike wealthier schools, they lack science and computer labs, music rooms, art rooms, libraries with librarians.

And teachers question whether low enrollment is an issue at all; CPS is using 30 students per class as a measure for whether a school is fully utilized.
posted by jokeefe at 8:17 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


But seriously, I lived in Oak Park for awhile, one block over from Austin Blvd, and the difference was so striking. The housing prices would drop $100K when you crossed the street.
posted by desjardins at 8:17 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


sun times article on the protest and closings. As is usual, don't read the comments.

Wow, you weren't kidding. Straight up racism and hate.
posted by jokeefe at 8:23 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


(Benign example, from before big school violence fears, like 30 years ago: some communities used to host polling stations in school lobbies but moved them to other places because the kids would be unteachable all day on election day because it was so exciting with people coming and going.)

Still true in San Francisco. My polling place is at the school around the corner. It moved for a while, to a guy's garage (I love this!), while the school was being renovated, but now it's back there.
posted by rtha at 8:37 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


In Chicago there are White neighborhoods, Black neighborhoods, and Hispanic neighborhoods, full stop

Counterpoint, Logan Square. Maybe 15 years ago it was a Hispanic neighborhood, but you couldn't say that today.

Sure, it's 1 out of what, 76? But it does go against the grain, and maybe give a little hope for the city on diversity. Assuming it doesn't just flip to all-white, I guess, from the folks priced out of Wicker Park.
posted by hwyengr at 9:12 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


jokeefe: "This just jumped out at me: excuse my naiveté, but does this mean that it's a normal thing for Chicago elementary schools to go without libraries, books, and air conditioning? Jesus."

I don't know about Chicago or the current state of affairs, but during the 80s I went to a predominantly black public elementary school in New Orleans that didn't have air conditioning. I subsequently moved about a mile to a predominantly white public elementary school that was nice and cool all year round.
posted by brundlefly at 10:09 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I went with a friend to pick up his daughter from school in Spokane once, and the stranger danger fearmongering was extreme.

Well, they may get put on edge by actual strangers, but the major danger (and liability risk) is non-custodial parents.

That's interesting in that it is virtually the same language that filled the newspaper comment sections here in Ontario over the last few months of our teacher labour issues.

I lost track of the number of times I read that I should be fired or given the "Reagan treatment".


Pretty much the same story here in Wisconsin, with the "future presidential candidate" Walker assault on public employee unions. With teachers, especially, there's this little sneer that if they dare to act in their own self-interest and, say, hope for a salary increase that barely keeps up with inflation, obviously they're not in it "for the kids". It's an appalling Orwellian fifteen-minutes'-hate.

Why not turn unused parts of the schools into administrative offices, community meeting spaces, free or discounted office space for nonprofits?

Not ragging on you, specifically, but this is sort of a free ponies for everyone! thinking that turns up in this type of discussion a lot. These neighborhoods are -- as facetious delineated quite well -- massive depopulated and disinvested. There are massive industrial-era warehouses that can't be given away. The existing landlords may be the only thing holding a neighborhood a razor's edge above water; the city gains nothing if by renting out schools they end up razing blocks of commercial property. The other popular suggestion (not part of the current closure controversy, but generally) -- turn them into apartments or condos -- ignores the fact that these schools wouldn't be closing if people weren't leaving the neighborhoods by the busload.

most of these areas have been very, very damaged and unliveable since at least the end of world war ii,

An anecdote that I like to relate here is a recording of a (Mike) Nichols and (Elaine) May set at the University of Chicago sometime in the mid-fifties. The neighborhoods around Hyde Park were already subject to massive "urban renewal" campaigns that Nichols joked was in fact "urban removal", to hollow laughter.

In theory, I think these closures could amount to a much-needed redistribution of scarce resources that will actually improve educational outcomes. In practice, I know that these schools are prized as one of the few markers that a neighborhood still matters -- to anyone. I don't discount the influence of the charter school industry, but on the other hand, if you're to have any criteria for schools at all, you'll have to have some that fail the criteria.
posted by dhartung at 10:17 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Why not turn unused parts of the schools into administrative offices, community meeting spaces, free or discounted office space for nonprofits?

I can't think of a single K-12 school district in America that would dream of doing that during school hours (renting out space after hours is routine). Parents would eat them alive.

Right here in my hometown of Anacortes, Washington. Administrative offices are located in an upstairs wing of the middle school, open to the public. Tennis courts are a shared school/public space. Has not been a problem. Most people in the community see it as an efficient use of public funds and space.
posted by xedrik at 10:39 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


i keep on thinking about how finland got it right, re: education... & wrt welfare - "The most interesting curve is the dotted purple one, which is scaled to the right-vertical axis. This is the ratio of children receiving either form of cash assistance to the total population of children under the poverty line." (via)

&c. Solar power, white spaces bring 16Mbps broadband to towns without electricity! (now that's HiiiPower ;)
posted by kliuless at 11:11 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Chicago Public Schools is promising big amenities at receiving schools, like air conditioning in every classroom, iPads for all third through eighth graders, libraries for schools that don't have one, and new books. They’re also offering schools money for tutoring and mentors.

This just jumped out at me: excuse my naiveté, but does this mean that it's a normal thing for Chicago elementary schools to go without libraries, books, and air conditioning? Jesus.


Yes. The vast majority of Chicago Public Schools were built in the 20s and 30s by the WPA. They are beautiful old buildings, engineered with full walls of windows and high ceilings to be at least tolerable in the summer. Unfortunately, these beautiful old buildings are terribly expensive to maintain and run. Adding air conditioning generally means putting 4 window AC units in every classroom, making those windows unusable during non-awful weather and adding what must be an unbelievable amount to the power bill.

The CPS is facing a $1 billion shortfall. That's $2500 per student. It cost me less than that to go to a private high school in Chicago 20 years ago. That's not what they are spending per student, that's what they are losing. Something has got to give. 30 kids per classroom might be a burden when there is just one teacher per classroom, but that's not the case anymore. The Chicago Teacher's Union has something like 30,000 members. That's a 13:1 ratio, just in the schools, since administrators aren't part of the union. Obviously, that counts social workers and whatnot, but they have the resources to do a good job. But not if there are schools out there with 15 kids in a classroom and other schools with 40 kids crammed into "temporary" trailers dating from the 70s.
posted by gjc at 5:12 AM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's hard to not see this as a huge boon to the charter school system. There's a lot of money pouring in from the right wing to the charter schools, mainly because it eats away at the unions.
posted by destro at 5:34 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also re air conditioning: it is Chicago, not new New Orleans.
posted by destro at 5:37 AM on March 28, 2013


"30 kids per classroom might be a burden when there is just one teacher per classroom, but that's not the case anymore. The Chicago Teacher's Union has something like 30,000 members. That's a 13:1 ratio, just in the schools, since administrators aren't part of the union. Obviously, that counts social workers and whatnot, but they have the resources to do a good job. But not if there are schools out there with 15 kids in a classroom and other schools with 40 kids crammed into "temporary" trailers dating from the 70s."

A couple things with this. The teacher ratio includes special ed classrooms, which may have ratios of 10:1 or 8:1 or even 1:1. CPS has a student population where around 20-25% (I think 22%?) of students receive special ed services. The number you want -- that the state does not generally make available -- is the student:teacher ratio in regular-division classes, which is typically at the upper limits of what the law or the contract allows. These classes are HUGE. Most people don't realize quite how large a portion of the budget special ed has become, or how many teaching resources special ed takes up. It makes class-size statistics in large urban districts very misleading. The other place where you see "some 13:1 classes" is offering AP Calculus or fourth-year German or advanced art studio in the high schools. Those classes don't fill. A suburban school has the resources to offer AP Literature to 8 kids if they only have 8 kids who want to take it, but a CPS school is urged to shut down its advanced and AP offerings unless it can fill the class with 30 kids. High-achieving, academically-engaged poor students are told to go sit and be bored in an English class well below their abilities and be less-prepared for a college admissions process where they're already at a disadvantage because there are "only" 13 kids who want to take AP Literature. They're told they can't have electives like art or music or psychology.

In addition, we've dramatically increased the burden on principals -- a principal is (legally) responsible for meaningfully observing, four times a year, every teacher in his school, and writing up these observations, and going over them with the teacher and the superintendent, which in a school of 600 (our threshhold before adding an assistant principal) is probably around 40 teachers. He also has to supervise, discipline, and manage 600 students. Plus the staff -- secretaries, janitors -- and managing the building. In corporate America a manager:employee ratio is somewhere around 1:10; 1:40 teachers PLUS all the students PLUS all the staff PLUS the building is asking an awful lot of one person. We've also dramatically increased the number of non-student-contact administrators because of reporting requirements that "increase accountability" or are required for participation in federal programs -- food service guidelines have become so complicated that very few districts run the programs in-house anymore unless they're very large. My district of 14,000 students has a 4-person department devoted just to Medicaid reimbursements for medical services we provide to students -- of course, those reimbursements don't provide salary for the 4-person department. We have another 4-person department devoted to nothing but federal testing requirements for high-stakes testing and reporting (also required, but not funded, by NCLB, but you lose your OTHER federal funding if you don't report), and they are too small and struggling to meet deadlines every year, but we can't justify adding another non-student-contact administrator when we need teachers.

I'm not sure what the solutions are to having some schools overpopulated and some underpopulated, because that is a problem, but that's not the ONLY problem.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:15 AM on March 28, 2013 [10 favorites]


Chicago is not under siege.
Quite right. To be under siege implies that there is a worthy core on the brink of flipping over and giving in to dark interests outside. Chicago has been like this for a long time; I can't remember when it hasn't been ruled by cronyism and insider/machine politics. And it's not just the city - counties and individual towns get in on this too.
posted by ZeusHumms at 6:19 AM on March 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


And teachers question whether low enrollment is an issue at all; CPS is using 30 students per class as a measure for whether a school is fully utilized.

Here in my Rhode Island town, 26 is the maximum class size in elementary school per the teachers' union contract, and they get paid a bonus for any kids over (I think) 23, and can't even start the school year with more than 24 students.

God, this is a sad mess that those kids -- any kids -- shouldn't have to deal with. :7(
posted by wenestvedt at 6:20 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's a lot of money pouring in from the right wing to the charter schools

I didn't want to include this in the FPP because I wasn't sure how to word it without it coming off as editorializing, but I found it super interesting (and chilling) that the Walton Family Foundation has poured about half a million dollars into funding community engagement about the school closures issue. The Walton Family Foundation is, of course, the people who run Wal-Mart, and heavily pro-charter, and the media has been banned at these break-out sessions (although I recall reading somewhere that most parents just ignored the breaking-out part and continued to voice their displeasure in a large group).
posted by Phire at 7:04 AM on March 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


NPR's Morning Edition on the closures
posted by Going To Maine at 8:58 AM on March 28, 2013


>In Chicago there are White neighborhoods, Black neighborhoods, and Hispanic neighborhoods, full stop

Counterpoint, Logan Square. Maybe 15 years ago it was a Hispanic neighborhood, but you couldn't say that today.

And (West) Rogers Park. And Uptown. I suspect there are other 'hoods to add to this list, too. The south side seems much more starkly segregated than the far north side. But the point nevertheless stands.

but really the next stratum below chicago is occupied by the massive urban slums of brazil and india.

Having worked briefly in some of these "massive urban slums" of India of which you speak, I don't find this comparison helpful. Yes, large swaths of the south side are tremendously disturbing examples of the worst urban blight in the U.S. It takes about ten minutes from the bourgeois environs of Hyde Park to get to Englewood, one of the best examples of how badly the government has failed south siders.

That said, unless the city does not pipe sanitary, drinkable water to these neighborhoods; unless what water sources there are, are insufficient, and controlled by the mafia; unless there is no legal way to acquire electricity and gas in these neighborhoods; and unless the vast majority of residents in these neighborhoods are living in structures they themselves have taped and soldered together out of plastic sheeting and corrugated metal and then insulated with stray plastic bags, there is a large difference between blighted Chicago neighborhoods and urban slums in India.

Indeed, there exists in impoverished Chicago neighborhoods a basic infrastructure which makes the current state of these neighborhoods all the more shocking, for it highlights how the impediments to their economic development are produced, largely, at the level we're talking about in this post: the consistent failure, on level of politics and government, to formulate a clear will, and funded plan, to improve them.
posted by artemisia at 9:13 AM on March 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


Looks like population migration through neighborhoods happens in Chicago just like every where else, but the segregation and attitudes remain.
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:34 AM on March 28, 2013


With Vouchers, States Shift Aid for Schools to Families
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:35 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


oops.

NYT: With Vouchers, States Shift Aid for Schools to Families
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:41 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Chicago is indeed not Cité Soleil.
That is sort of what makes it worse though. It's not a matter of can't the way it is in Haiti or any of the innumerable hellholes I've found myself.
Chicago is perfectly capable of taking care of itself, it just ...doesn't. And somehow stays on its feet and works. And comes back. And then - doesn't, again!

I remember reading a Batman story a while ago (No Man's Land) and thinking how implausible it was. The U.S. federal and state government just abandoning a city, the city government severing otherwise inhabitable space and ceding control to organized gangs.

Now, not so much.

Ministers in Chicago are sort of a problem politically. Some are the stereotypical exploiters they seem to be. A majority are genuinely trying to help, but many are factional. And there really shouldn't be a need for a liaison between people and their government. But it is what it is. And people do (or did) get money under the table for working at their local school.
Principals, like preachers, have a lot of social capital.

That has a lot to do with race, but only because past racism has formed the social structures into what they are.
Perhaps that makes it worse because although it's not that passionate sort of hatred, the genuine article, everyone is habituated to it.
It's reflexive. Part of the environment more than any personally motivated thing.
(I mean I don't much like Emmanuel but he isn't doing this just because he hates black people.)

And too is the assumption that things are done to keep up the cheap labor pool.
But that starts to get a bit esoteric for me. I'm not a sociologist.

The closings could be good or bad, depending on the details, but either way the fight itself is over resources, not education. All about that social capital. Hooking people up with jobs (we don't want no one that don't know no one). All that. And most of the media has bought into the blather.


The big problem - educationally - is not so much the school closings but rather going to school.
What is being overlooked is how the kids are going to get to school.

There are expanses of the city that are pretty much red zones particularly for kids just trying to get to school.
You're automatically polarized by the "if you're not with us you're against us" attitude and there is plenty of pressure.
It's palpable. You can feel it. It's not the "dangerous" neighborhood feel. At least, not in the overt physical threat sense you get out of a war zone. It's not a jungle threat. It's a machine threat.
Pressure. Not explosive. But constant. That environment presses itself on you. Not the violence but the brutal suppression of the imagination that there could be some other way to live.

So imagine being 8 years old and walking through that every day. ( "But you know, there are no children here. They've seen too much to be children")

I'm familiar with Col. Tyrell, and it's heartening that he's heard some of the concerns over kids going from one neighborhood to another to go to school and crossing gang boarders.
And all things considered, the nature of the thing aside, if you were going to hire someone to execute a strategic plan, even if it has to happen in 5 months, he's got the background for it.

But.

A. He's not from Chicago. (Trite as it sounds. The complexity of the factionalism and cutthroat politics here make almost anywhere else seem quaint)

B. All I've heard is pretty much the same party line: budget shortfall, half empty schools, academic failure.

A lot depends on the systems surrounding how this is executed more than the plan itself.
I've seen nothing addressing that at all from the city government. Pretty much the standard "blow smoke up your ass" plan. Not to mention ignoring - or outright fighting - the parents who are involved and passionate (opposed or in favor) when the real enemy is apathy.

That is, I've heard nothing about - transportation of students, protection (physical) of students by policing and social supports, protection (economic) by neighborhood reinvestment, protection (social) of students by changing their expectations and opportunities.

Back in '05 when students (from Austin HS) went to Clemente, there was a big problem. Big increase in kids getting hurt. Carver, same thing. Privatization and gentrification increase alienation, destabilize already depressed neighborhoods and kids lose - perhaps not real safety, I'll give Tyrell if not Emanuel the benefit of the doubt - but the sense of safety and belonging. Which can be as important.
(I hate to harp on how great a film "The Interrupters" is, but it fits).

That coupled with a change in staff who don't know the history is going to lead to violence. Period.
It might change over time. This might be an excellent plan or it might be daffy. But there will be blood spilled during the transition unless there is a nearly supernatural effort to address all the intangibles.
And inside 5 months? I couldn't do it and I'm f'ing Superman. Although what can one do about the imposition of displacement and anarchy? No man's land.

It doesn't matter how delightful the school itself is in terms of education - if the kid is afraid to go there or if the kids' parents can't or won't get them there or if they show up hungry.

The only reason a school exists is because it needs to serve a community. It's a symbiotic relationship. If the needs of the community aren't addressed by the government than it can't support a school any more than putting steel into the structure of a building will make it stand better if you pour butter as a foundation.

Even taking the closings as a great idea, it would still require a wide spectrum response to the community.

I'm reminded of the "Three Cups of Tea" bullshit. You do need to build schools in a community to anchor them. But a school is not the building. It's the health and welfare of the students, their attendance, the curriculum and the ability of a teacher to deliver it that makes a "school."

Again, I'm not an economist or teacher, I just break things well (although I am well read as a result).

One of the ways we keep ourselves and others safe is to break the cycle of poverty.
And we have no leadership on this. No matter how well this is executed, it's "cost too much, we have to close them" rather than "follow me."

It's astonishing that all it would take to change that is the political will.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:05 PM on March 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Eyebrows McGee: My district of 14,000 students has a 4-person department devoted just to Medicaid reimbursements for medical services we provide to students -- of course, those reimbursements don't provide salary for the 4-person department.
I've seen the same thing from the IT side at one of my clients. In addition to the same federal reporting Chicago has, my client has a significant state reporting burden for both professional standards and financial records. My firm has been able to help, but they can't afford to keep us on staff permanently. Especially when they're having to close schools and let teachers go due to shrinking enrollment and revenues.

If you could see what the IT staff at your nearest large district have to do just to keep up with the day-to-day demand for more and more "accountability" reports, you'd call your state representative and complain.

And let's not even get into what portion of that "accountability" seems to boil down to, "We don't really trust black people with that much money." Especially at the state level.
posted by ob1quixote at 5:43 PM on March 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


The south side seems much more starkly segregated than the far north side. But the point nevertheless stands.

It is a very large area, but the borders between the different ethnic neighborhoods are much fuzzier on the South Side than most other places. I guess it depends on how you define segregation- stark geographic borders between different ethnic groups is how I see it.
posted by gjc at 8:12 PM on March 28, 2013


One thing that took me a while to figure out is that in poor neighborhoods, the schools are really important economic entities. Stores and restaurants cluster around schools, because teachers and bus drivers and security guards have enough money to buy things. If the city invests in a school, property values go up, forcing long-lived residents out of their homes. If the city closes or moves a school, the neighborhood may lose its only real cash infusion. A high school in a poor neighborhood serves the same kind of role that a college does in a college town. Its payroll of a few million dollars might be larger than that of every business in the neighborhood combined.

I don't think this is a good thing: a school's responsibility should be to its students, not to its employees or its neighbors. But it explains why even minor decisions, like choosing a principal or building a new football field, become incredibly political. And why closing 54 schools might lead to civil disobedience and violence.
posted by miyabo at 12:09 PM on March 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also I thought this report was interesting. About half of CPS students graduate. About one third of the graduates enroll in college -- that seems really great to me! But of those 1/3rd, only 1/3rd graduate from college -- vastly worse than the national average. Put another way, only 1 in 18 high school freshmen goes on to get a college degree.

I don't much care about the kids who drop out of high school -- they're turning down a free education. But I worry a lot about the ones who graduate from high school, who get into college, and can figure out a way to pay for it -- but then flunk out. That may indicate that high school academics are really poor, or that students are getting bad advice on which college to go to (many are going to very large schools which aren't going to be kind).

In any case, anyone who tries to say that poor communities just don't care about education is wrong. Many poor families invest large amounts of time and money to get their kids into college. The kids just don't have the skills to succeed when they get there.
posted by miyabo at 1:36 PM on March 29, 2013


A few things to clear up about the Chicago Public Schools defense of closing these particular schools. (I'm a CPS Parent and have issues with the District and the CTU at times, but I find that my school's teachers and principal are amazing and I would back them any day. I've also been running an Open Gov project to try and create more transparency around Chicago school data, CPSApples2Apples, and am on the team behind SchoolCuts.org, which is trying to do the same around this specific school action.)

1) CLAIM: These schools are too underutilized to keep open.

This is according to a formula that CPS is using that doesn't take into account Special Education classrooms (now capped at 13) and that uses a maximum efficiency of 36 students per class in elementary schools. Yes, you read that correctly. Thirty-six students. in Kindergarten through 8th grade. According to CPS' formula, any school with less than 24 students per classroom is underutilized.

2) CLAIM: CPS has lost so many students since a decade ago that the District now has 100,000 empty seats.

The District has lost ~30,000 enrolled students over the past decade or so. But it opened up a huge number of additional schools--mostly charter schools--within that same time period. The District created many of these additional seats.

3) CLAIM: The schools that are underutilized have become that way specifically because of population decreases in those community areas.

Yes and no. Chicago has torn down quite a few public housing projects in the last decade, and during the upswing in the housing market before the crash, some families were able to move away. But CPS has also been putting new charter schools (with shiny, clean, well-appointed buildings) in neighborhoods where populations were already declining. And that has been a plan that was set in motion under Arne Duncan (when he was CPS CEO) that was created by the financial institution which secures funding for charter schools. (And charter schools continue to be approved for opening here, even when these 54 schools are being closed.)

4) CLAIM: We can compare the performance of every CPS school against every other school fairly.

No, not really. CPS has a three tiers of access to schools: selective enrollment (you have to test in to a school, admission 1x a year); lottery schools (Charters/Magnets where you "win" a seat if you can navigate the complicated lottery process, admission 1x year, you can be dropped from the school at the school's discretion); neighborhood schools which have to accept any kid at any time during the year and do the most to deal with mobility issues, special education resource issues, etc. Are the selective enrollment schools "better"? Are charter/magnet schools "better"? Or are they better "filters" of students? It isn't entirely clear because the data is hard to get on this.

5) CLAIM: It's not a big deal to swap out a charter school for a neighborhood school.


See #4. There is little/no data transparency for charter schools, and little accountability as well. They do not release their budgets, teacher turnover, funding sources, or many of the other pieces of data that allow Chicagoan's to understand what is going on within neighborhood schools. They do not have to have Local School Councils (which give parents some influence over decisions at the local school level). Charter Networks have overhead that local schools don't have on top of the overhead schools here already have with Area Networks and Central Office. These things affect access, accountability, budgets, financial sustainability, etc. in ways that shut the community out of engagement in their local school.

6) CLAIM: Students at closing schools are going to schools which are doing better academically.

That is completely untrue. Many of these students are going to schools which are performing at the same level academically as their current school. CPS has been defending this by saying that the receiving schools are performing better on 3 out of 4 measures, but all of those measures are flawed and two are seriously volatile (so what might be "better" this year was "worse" last year and "better" the year before, etc. And which school is better is a matter of timing.) The research done on previous school closures shows that students who are transferred to a new school as a result of a closing will most likely decline in academic performance, not increase, as a result of the change unless they are sent to a school that is at a much higher performance level than their closed school.

7) CLAIM: These school actions will be critical in closing the school's budget deficit, and/or the deficit is directly related to all of this underutilization.

No. Previous school closings in Chicago and elsewhere have not been shown to save Districts money at the level that CPS is predicting. And these predictions are based upon so many assumptions that aren't grounded in reality, like the ability to sell these empty buildings at a profit, etc. Part of the budget overrun has been due to CPS adding 80-100 additional schools to their portfolio over the last decade without having the corresponding increase in population to bring in revenue (from taxes, state or federal funds) and Chicago politicians opting to not fund pensions but push it off until the future, etc.

8) CLAIM: These buildings are too expensive to upgrade and maintain.

Except that they have been upgrading and maintaining these buildings and turning them over to charter schools for some time now. And they upgrade and maintain the buildings of the same age on the (whiter, wealthier) North side. I can understand the frustration of the families in these neighborhoods.

_______________________

There is so much frustration here with how the process is being handled (poorly), how decisions are being made (in a vacuum), the potential fallout of these policies on all of the neighborhood schools (neighborhood schools grossly overcrowded while selective enrollment and charter schools can maintain smaller class sizes, control student population types).

Strangely enough, as a District, CPS HAS been improving over time, with many neighborhood schools outperforming charter schools. But all of this progress is in danger of being undone by this Mayor. Many middle class parents who had happily settled into the City after many years of families moving to the suburbs as soon as their oldest turns 4? Now those families are all talking about the same "school flight" strategies that Chicago tried to fight against for so many years.
posted by jeanmari at 6:10 AM on March 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


And then, of course, there is all of this going on in the background...State investigating $98 million grant for UNO charter schools

The campaign manager of Rahm Emmanual's Mayoral campaign was the Juan Rangel, who is also the CEO of the UNO Charter School Network.

So much tangled up in this. It's not cut-and-dried.
posted by jeanmari at 8:37 AM on March 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


« Older In my experience, news like this is best served wi...  |  "Twelve years ago, Portugal el... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments