Across the country, many school systems have designated “turnaround schools,” which means that the schools remain open but new staff is hired.
As of 2009, 12 Chicago Public Schools were designated turnaround schools: Charles S. Deneen Elementary School, as well as George W. Curtis Elementary School on Chicago’s South Side are two of them. Both schools are currently trying to fill multiple positions.
However, other schools aren’t so lucky and are forced to close because of low enrollment or because of consistently low levels of academic performance. Schools also closed because of underutilization of the school’s space, the conversion of schools to charter schools and a building’s poor physical condition. Since 2001, CPS has closed 44: Twenty-six closed because of low enrollment and poor academic standing.
For Andy Smarick, a visiting fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and adjunct fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, school closures makes economic sense, as he compared ailing schools to other failing industries.
“The surprise and shame is that urban public education, unlike nearly every other industry, profession and field, has never developed a sensible solution to its continuous failures.” Smarick wrote in The Turnaround Fallacy.
“After undergoing improvement efforts, a struggling private firm that continues to lose money will close, get taken over, or go bankrupt. Unfit elected officials are voted out of office. The worst lawyers can be disbarred, and the most negligent doctors can lose their licenses. Urban school districts, at long last, need an equivalent.”
According to the study, “When Schools Close: Effects on Displaced Students in Chicago Public Schools,” authors found that after schools closed, displaced students enrolled in equally underperforming schools.”
In fact, 40 percent of displaced students enrolled in schools on probation and another 42 percent of students enrolled in schools that reported some of the lowest test scores. Only 6 percent enrolled in a higher academic-achieving school. However, those students’ commute averaged 3.5 miles.
Julia Gwynne and Marisa de la Torre, both analysts at the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago, and authors of the study, found that keeping underperforming and underutilized are expensive to maintain and especially during CPS’s dire budget issues, resources could be better allocated to other areas of CPS.
And while parents, teachers and students protest the CPS building in droves and pack board of education meetings, Gwynne and de la Torre concluded that school closings have little affect on students’ academic performance, but addressed the merit of school closings.
Gwynne and de la Torres reported students did better when they attended a better school after their schools closed. “This also suggests that the success of a school closing policy crucially depends on a large supply of ‘better’ schools and on an intentional strategy to enroll displaced students in these schools.”
But for every school that closes, Chicago’s Renaissance 2010 initiative guarantees to establish 100 quality schools by the end of the year. Williams school closed after the 2001-2002 school year, but by 2003-2004, four new schools opened in the same building.
“Our knowledge base about improving failing schools is still staggeringly small,” Smarick wrote. “And exceptional urban schools are nearly always start-ups or consistently excellent schools, not drastically improved once-failing schools.”
Below is a map of the eight schools that will be closed, consolidated, phased out or turned around during the 2010-11 school year:
View CPS Closings For 2010-2011 School Year in a larger map
When McCorkle Elementary School closes in fall 2010, students will be sent to Beethoven Elementary School, which has a higher student-ratio but better test scores.
Chicago Public Schools announced closings, turnarounds, phase-outs, and consolidations, which continue to draw protests from teachers, students and families.
“They’ve been talking about this for a long time, but I was thinking because we’ve made improvements, I was thinking they would try to move students in there. I was shocked when [a district official] gave me the news.”
–Frederico Flores, Principal, Peabody Elementary School
“Our parents worked hard, our teachers worked hard, our students worked hard to improve our school. “So everyone’s going to band together and try to keep our school open.”
-Frederico Flores, Principal, Peabody Elementary School
“We need to build up, not tear down the people and places where our students need to learn.”
-Marilyn Stewart, President, Chicago Teachers Union
“Do not let this blood sit on your hands. When it comes to our children, you will be held accountable.”
-Wanda Hopkins, member, Parents United for Responsible Education
“For 30 years [CPS-backed reform initiatives] have not delivered on providing a first-class education for all children in Chicago no matter where they’re coming from. We’re saying the time is now.”
-Jackson Potter, steering committee, Caucus of Rank and File Educators
“Closures are essential but they have to be part of a bigger strategy. If we close Johnson Middle, do we have enough new schools that are starting, that are close to them and will fit them well?”
-Andy Smarick, distinguished visiting fellow at Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Washington, D.C., author of the Education Next article “The Turnaround Fallacy.”
“We’re trying rebuild every community school in Chicago. That’s what you have to do. If we don’t build community schools where people firmly believe that their child can get a quality education, then we’re gonna fail as a society. That is the commitment of rebuilding school after school. And that’s what we’re doing.”
–Mayor Richard M. Daley