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Closing Chicago Neighborhood Schools an Academic Disaster… and City Offers NO Evidence it Saved $$$

May 24, 2018

It’s been five years since Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel announced his abrupt decision to close 50 neighborhood schools to save money, and a a team of researchers at the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research just released a comprehensive study of the impact of this decision on students at the schools that closed and the schools that absorbed them. Unsurprisingly to anyone who values the idea of children attending the public school closest to their home, as Kalyn Belsha of the Chicago Reporter notes the academic results were negative and the promises made by the district to augment technology and social workers in the receiving schools were not kept. And the savings?

While officials said the main reason they closed schools in 2013 was to save money, the district has never reported if it did.

One of the reasons, I am certain, is that when parents expressed righteous indignation at the way decisions were made, the administration attempted to ameliorate them by providing iPads and social workers to the schools where students would be assigned. And how did that work out?

While schools appreciated the iPads and extra money CPS gave them during the first year, staff said they received little training on how to use the new technology and when the one-time infusion of cash ran out after a year or so, supports like extra social workers disappeared.

Staff at the welcoming schools reported starting in the fall of 2013 without important supplies — some of which the district lost permanently. Educators interpreted this “as a sign that the district did not respect staff or care about the students in these schools.”

Worse than the slide in test scores that students from closed schools experienced was the animosity and stereotyping they received in their “welcoming schools”. And the closure process itself resulted in negativity– if not hostility— in the schools that absorbed the students from the schools that closed:

The way the closures played out also hurt the surveyed schools’ internal cultures, researchers found. Before the mergers, schools in the same neighborhoods felt like they were “pitted against” one another in an emotional, months-long battle to keep their schools open. This, coupled with the chaotic transition, “resulted in feelings of anger and resentment across communities,” the report states.

Staff and students in welcoming schools also reported an increase in student fights and bullying, especially the first year after the closures. While that improved with time, the staff’s perceptions of conflict remained higher than before the mergers, and students reported that early stereotypes about them persisted.

In one case, students heard welcoming school staff talking about how kids who came in from the closed school had lower test scores.

“Like on my first day back here, even the teachers would even say, ‘Oh, you’re a [closed school] kid, so you’re lower than the rest of the kids, ‘cause [the welcoming school was] such a high [scoring] school,’” one student told the researchers.

Educators said they needed the district to provide more support and training on merging schools, more emotional support for staff and additional funding and emotional supports for students beyond the first year after a closure.

But if the purpose of closing schools is to save money, providing the necessary supports for students beyond year one will undercut the overarching purpose. Here’s an idea: instead of putting hundreds of children and their families through the turmoil of switching schools why not invest a marginal amount more in their existing schools?



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