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More questions: charters, partners, and planning

(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.

Read the rest of this entry »

West Side parents fight ‘education apartheid’

A successful neighborhood school on the West Side is fighting “disinvestment” while a failing charter nearby gets millions of dollars worth of renovations, parents charge.

On Friday, March 16 at 8 a.m., the Emmet Elementary School LSC and the Austin group Progressive Action Coalition for Education will hold a press conference and rally against “education apartheid” at the school, 5500 W. Madison.

Emmet’s scores have improved dramatically in recent years and its performance rating is currently Level 2 (“good standing”) and headed toward Level 1 (“excellent”), said Dwayne Truss of PACE.  In a recent Designs for Change study, Emmet was one of 33 very high poverty schools performing above the CPS average on the ISAT reading test.

Emmet’s success is the result of “the LSC, the teachers, and the principal working together,” Truss said.

Hazards 

But the school is badly in need of capital improvements, he said.  Students are served lunch in the hallway and eat their lunch in the same room used for physical education and assemblies.  This creates scheduling difficulties, and the lack of space and the presence of permanent seats creates a hazard for kids in gym class, he said.

The school’s fieldhouse is decaying and dangerous, with “paint chips all over the place,” and while CPS is planning to implement recess next year, the school’s playground is pocked with potholes, Truss said.

In addition CPS recently cut the school’s librarian.  The school has 450 students in Pre-K through 8th grade.

The charter advantage

Meanwhile CPS is spending $13 million to renovate an annex at Nash Elementary, 4837 W. Erie, for a revived ACT Charter school.  ACT’s low-performing high school suspended operations in 2010; the new school plans to serve 5th through 8th graders.

It will be operated by KIPP, whose Ascend charter school now serves 5th through 8th graders – and like ACT, is rated at Level 3 in performance.  (If charters were subject to probation, KIPP Ascend would be on probation.)

Read the rest of this entry »

School closings, the law, and alternatives

School closings to be announced by CPS on Thursday—expected to be unprecedented in scope — are the first under a new state school facilities planning law, intended to bring transparency and accountability to decisions over school buildings.

But does the school district’s new guidelines for school actions, which must be finalized by November 30, abide by the spirit of the law?  Many of its proponents – and some of its legislative sponsors – say no.

Meanwhile community groups continue to call on CPS to work with communities to improve struggling schools, rather than imposing top-down strategies that have no record of success.

“I don’t see them as being really ready to adhere to SB 630,” said State Representative Esther Golar, a member of the legislative task force which developed the bill.   The legislation “was intended to require CPS to work as partner with parents, teachers, and the community.”

She adds: “That’s something they haven’t been doing….And they’re still saying we’re going to run the schools the way we want to, and you don’t have any say-so.”

“It’s the same failed policies,” said Dwayne Truss, co-chair of the Austin Community Action Council, established by CPS.  “They just want to open up buildings for more charter schools.”

Read the rest of this entry »



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