(This is the second of two posts – part one looks at questions for the Commission on School Utilization including enrollment numbers and savings from closing schools.)
Mayor Emanuel, CPS chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett and utilization commission chair Frank Clark have taken the position that “right-sizing” the district has nothing to do with the district’s expansion of charter schools.
One has to do with declining enrollment and snowballing deficits, the other with choice and quality, according to this view.
The argument would work better if CPS’s enrollment and utilization numbers held up; if school closings actually saved significant amounts of money; and if charters consistently offered quality rather than undermining most parents’ first choice – a quality neighborhood school.
Even then, though, it’s hard to separate the proliferation of charters from enrollment declines at neighborhood schools.
[Based on revelations in Tuesday’s Tribune, the separation of school closings and charter expansions is purely strategic; when officials say they are unrelated, they are lying.]
A hundred new schools
In the past decade, as CPS lost 30,000 students, it’s opened more than 100 new schools with space for nearly 50,000 additional students, according to a new report from CTU.
While CPS closed scores of schools during that period, the number of schools in the district went from 580 to over 680.
“To the extent excess capacity exists, the main driver is the district’s aggressive charter proliferation campaign,” according to the report. “The current ‘utilization crisis’ has been manufactured largely to justify the replacement of neighborhood schools by privatized charters.”
Throughout Renaissance 2010, “there was no facilities plan” and facilities decisions were “ad hoc and haphazard,” according to CTU’s report. Adding to the confusion was the practice of approving charter schools without specifying their location, and some charters’ practice of repeatedly relocating their schools.
“CPS has opened charters haphazardly, without considering how they affect nearby schools,” according to a Sun Times editorial.
As Catalyst points out, new charter schools have been concentrated in the community areas with the largest number of schools listed as “underutilized” by CPS. North Lawndale, with the most schools now rated as underutilized, has gotten more charter schools than any other community.
In general, those schools aren’t outperforming neighborhood schools, according to Valerie Leonard of the Lawndale Alliance.
A new round of failure
While school closings and new charter schools have been concentrated in low-income African American communities, these students are actually better served by neighborhood schools, according to CTU, citing reading score gains 10 percent higher in traditional schools than in charters in such areas.
Meanwhile students in closing schools have suffered mobility-related academic setbacks, faced transportation and security issues, and landed in worse-performing schools – while achievement rates in receiving schools have been adversely impacted.
It looks like the very students whom CPS has failed for a generation – whose schools have been systematically neglected and underresourced – are once again being failed.
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