While CTU President Karen Lewis said redemption for Wednesday’s vote could come only at the ballot box, the district is about to undertake a massive effort to get displaced students to enroll in a new school before May 31.
The union announced that it’s hosting the first in a series of training sessions Thursday for volunteers to register 100,000 new voters.
After the vote, Mayor Rahm Emanuel did not hold any news conferences Wednesday, instead issuing a brief statement on the board vote through his aides. Spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton said the mayor — who was criticized for being on a ski trip to Utah when the school-closings list came out in March — spent Wednesday working in his office at City Hall. (Sun-Times)
REPORTING ON THE VOTE: Now that the much anticipated vote on Chicago Schools closing has taken place, here's how local and national media covered the school board's action:
Sun-Times: CPS makes history, closing scores of schools in less time than it takes to boil an egg
Tribune: School closings disappoint many aldermen
Tribune: Photos show raw emotions at school board meeting
Tribune: Decision to spare 4 schools delights some parents
Associated Press: The Chicago Board of Education voted Wednesday to close 50 schools and programs, an ambitious plan that has sparked protests and lawsuits and could help define, for better or worse, Mayor Rahm Emanuel's term in office.
Crains: Chicago Public Schools OKs closing 50 schools
A CHANGED MIND: Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown says that Wednesday's vote moved him to switch his position about Chicago's need for an elected school board. "I changed my mind while watching Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s six appointees to the Board of Education vote unanimously to close 50 schools next year despite thoughtful and impassioned pleas from community members begging them to reconsider."
SOCIAL MEDIA REACTION: Lots of tweeting about CPS closings. Here a few pulled from my timeline:
@rickyburton: With all the school closings in #chicago it will no longer be a right to go to school but a privilege just to get to one. #cpsclosings
@soit_goes: Ballons with names of all 54 schools being closed being released in front of Manierre Elementary. #CPSclosings pic.twitter.com/yT6N2SYJls
@From_Nothing: Anybody wanna guess how many of the schools that were closed will reopen eventually as charter schools? #cpsclosings
IN THE NATION:
MOOCS BACKLASH: Professors across the U.S. are criticizing a rush to offer free online college courses, challenging a movement designed to spread knowledge and reduce higher-education costs. Amherst College faculty voted last month against joining an initiative led by Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The provost at American University issued a moratorium in January on such massive open online courses, or MOOCs. At San Jose State University, the philosophy department refused to use a free Web course from a Harvard professor. (Bloomberg)
Now that CPS board members have approved the closing of 50 elementary schools, 11 co-locations and five turnarounds, the district is about to undertake a massive effort to get displaced students to enroll in a new school before May 31.
CPS named “welcoming schools” for each of those that will close in the massive shakeup this fall. But in a district that offers an increasing number of school choices for parents, officials want to get a handle on just where students will end up on Aug. 26, the first day of school. In the past, only about half of displaced students attended the school CPS officials designated as welcoming.
About 46,000 students are affected by the actions approved at Wednesday's raucous meeting, marking the biggest restructuring in the district's history and the most schools ever closed at a single time in the nation. Weeks of protests by the Chicago Teachers Union, parents and community activists failed to sway the board or the district, beyond the last-minute decision to remove a handful of schools from the target list. Dozens of attendees were escorted out of board chambers for disrupting the meeting.
With these actions, the number of neighborhood elementary schools will fall to 344, down from nearly 400 a decade ago.
Getting a handle on where students will be in school this fall is of the upmost importance. School budgets are based on enrollment projections and, if fewer students show up than projected, the school will lose teachers. Conversely, if more students show up, classes can left without permanent teachers for weeks.
CPS officials appear to be waiting to get a handle on how enrollment will shake out under the school actions before giving schools their budgets, which are usually given to schools earlier in the spring.
Darlene Williams, who has two children and a niece and nephew at Paderewski, said she thinks that fewer than 15 percent of students from that school will go to the two designated welcoming schools. The receiving schools are mostly Latino, but Paderewski is mostly black and many of its students might end up at Crown, which is also predominantly African American.
With the votes cast, Brennemann Principal Sarah Abedelal said she and her staff will be at Stewart Elementary on Thursday afternoon handing out flyers to try to get students to enroll in her school. She is hoping that 170, or about 70 percent, of Stewart’s students enroll in Brennemann.
“If we don’t get the students, it will be a budget nightmare,” she said.
Abedelal said she didn’t want to do any overt selling of her school until after the votes were cast.
Some last-minute maneuvering did occur. Before the vote, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett recommended that board members vote no on four closures--Manierre, Mahalia Jackson, Garvey and Ericson--and one school, Barton from the turnaround list.
On the remaining 50 schools, only one vote was not unanimous, with board members Carlos Azcoitia and Jesse Ruiz opposing the closure of Von Humboldt.
Taking pains to explain their actions, board members said they made a point of having at least one member visit each targeted school. Board President David Vitale said he and other members walked past vacant lots, saw floors devoid of students and classrooms used as storage.
“We have tried to understand school by school what this would mean,” he said.
In the end, board members said they voted in favor of the closings because they believed the rationale, often repeated by the district, that closing under-used buildings would allow them to focus limited resources on a smaller number of schools. As part of the action, 17 of the welcoming schools will become speciality schools, offering International Baccalaureate, STEM--science, technology, engineering and math--or fine arts programs. The welcoming schools will also get extra resources such as iPads, as well as upgraded facilities--air conditioning, science labs and libraries.
Azcoitia said the extra resources were the reason he voted for the actions; otherwise he would have voted no.
"If resources are not abundant, then this is what we need to do," he said.
Board member Henry Bienen said that people who question whether closing schools will save money don’t understand economics. District officials have lowered their initial savings estimates.
“There are short-term costs of relocation, but fairly immediately we will see savings in not heating schools, not turning on the lights,” he said.
Bryd -Bennett also took time to defend her position. She reiterated that CPS has lost significant enrollment over the past decade and that has left some schools without many students and "tens of thousands trapped in under-utilized schools and under-resourced schools," sometimes in split-grade classes and without access to current technology.
She said the blame rests with CPS for not making hard decisions previously, "Like it or not, our schools do have to change," she said.
As she talked, attendees disrupted the board meeting saying "Children will die because of CPS lies."
A Chicago police officer told board members that the department looked at things like lights along the way, the condition of buildings and other issues. He said Chicago police see the closings as an opportunity to bring together communities that have not previously gotten along.
"They will learn and play together," he said.
But at least 100 parents and activists came to the board meeting to let members know how much they disliked the proposals.
As Erika Clark recited the entire long list of schools proposed for closure and declared that they were “my school,” the microphone shut off, signaling that she had exhausted her two minutes of allotted speech time.
Clark then sat down near the podium and was carried out by white-coated CPS security men. Clark staged one of several actions at the meeting and was one of the dozens of people forcefully removed while chanting or yelling.
The meeting started with a parade of aldermen asking board members to protect their schools. Ald. Latasha Thomas said she came to ask board members to step back and listen to what parents are asking for.
"Make sure you are not using a saw when you should be using a scaffold," Thomas said.
Ald. Walter Burnett reminded the board that the city has a high homicide rate, and said it is disingenuous for the board to say a school is underutilized while opening new charter schools. LEARN Charter School is across from Calhoun, which will close. Rather than open charter schools, Burnett suggested schools be rebranded.
The public participation part of the meeting ended with a parent from Overton saying the fight won’t be over. "On the first day of school next year, we will be there," she said.
The last speaker led the group in a prayer. “There is a right, there is a wrong, there is a just and an injustice,” said the woman who was there to oppose the closing of Morgan.
And even if that doesn't work, Sims said he is looking at other legislative angles to "ensure that we have a real discussion about the impact of the closures."
Today is the day when the Chicago School Board is supposed to decide the fate of 54 schools that have been proposed for closure, but the Sun-Times has learned that four Chicago Public Schools are no longer up for closing this year, a fifth wouldn’t close until next year and a sixth school would be spared from the staff reboot known as a turnaround.
CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett is expected to withdraw her recommendations to shutter Marcus Garvey Elementary School and Mahalia Jackson Elementary School on the South Side; Leif Ericson Elementary Scholastic Academy on the West Side, and George Manierre Elementary School on the Near North Side, according to a source familiar with her deliberations.
SOME TO BE SPARED: Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s hand-picked school board meets today to vote on more than 50 proposed school closings the administration says are necessary as the district faces a $1 billion deficit and declining enrollment. Indications are a few schools could be spared but that the board will leave the bulk of the closings plan in place. The school board meeting convenes at 10:30 a.m., when the board will discuss the closings and then vote after two hours of public comments. (Tribune)
SEEING PROGRESS LOSS: If Chicago Public Schools go ahead with plans to close 54 schools, it will mean moves for more than 2,400 students with special needs. Parents and teachers worry that school changes will disrupt the progress of students with autism at Lafayette Elementary. (Medill Reports)
LIFELINES ON THE LINE: Parents say the Chicago Board of Education’s plan to shut 53 elementary schools is uprooting the personal and academic lifelines of the city’s neediest communities. (The New York Times)
GOING DIGITAL: New Trier High School is embracing a future with more e-books and iPads — and fewer old-fashioned text books. But not all parents in the district are thrilled with having to pony up extra money for the gadgets.
Pressured for months by teachers, community leaders and aldermen, Mayor Rahm Emanuel's hand-picked school board is nonetheless expected on Wednesday to approve closing all but a few of the 53 elementary schools the administration wants to shut down. One source said the six-member school board is likely to vote for saving fewer than five of the schools on the closings list, according to the Tribune.
"It's a few," said Henry Bienen, president emeritus of Northwestern University, a board member who was willing to go on the record. "I don't think it's a large number of schools."
CLOSING APPEAL: A Sun-Times editorial calls for sparing at least 21 of the 54 schools that CPS and Mayor Rahm Emanuel insist are under-enrolled and must be closed. That's if board members truly are listening to the voices that have pleaded for their schools over the last six months, the editorial says.
CITING SEGREGATION: On the 59-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision to end segregation in public schools, Brown v. Board of Education, the Chicago Teachers Union released a report claiming widespread segregation still exists in Chicago Public Schools and the district’s administration is doing nothing to address it. (Progress Illinois)
TICKETED AND RELEASED: Chicago Police led away protesters Monday who blocked elevators in the lobby of City Hall after they vowed to “cause chaos in this city” to stop a sweeping school-closing plan. Officers bound the protesters’ hands with plastic ties after warning them they’d be arrested if they didn’t leave. Ultimately, 25 protesters were ticketed for trespassing and released. (Sun-Times)
IN THE NATION
DIGITAL FUTURE: Teacher education institutions risk becoming obsolete if they do not do a better job preparing future teachers to use digital curricula, experts say.
When Margarita Miranda moved to Old Town in 2000, the area looked much different. The Cabrini Green public housing projects cast a long shadow, and neighborhood elementary schools were located on every few blocks.
Today, the high-rise public housing has been wiped away, leaving the area with a smattering of row houses, townhouses and some stretches of still-empty lots.
Over the past decade, three of the schools that served the area’s children have been closed and reopened—one as a charter school, one as a selective enrollment school and the third as a lease by a private Catholic school that costs about $8,000 a year.
Miranda and other parents are now fighting furiously to save one of two neighborhood schools left. A parent volunteer who calls all the students at Manierre Elementary “her children,” she is emphatic that she won’t give up. The School Board is scheduled to vote on the closings on Wednesday.
“My son is upset,” she says. Miranda’s son has a disability that includes learning and speech difficulties and she’s afraid that he will simply “shut down” if he has to transfer to a new school.
But there’s something more that is eating at her. Even though Manierre is surrounded by high-performing schools, the school that her children are now supposed to attend is a Level 3 school with almost identical test scores.
Like Manierre, the receiving school, Jenner, has mostly black, low-income students. The other area schools are more diverse with far fewer poor children.
“I don’t want my children to go from a Level 3 school to a Level 3 school,” Miranda says. “I don’t want that for my children. They are good kids. They don’t bother nobody. They respect their elders.”
In some ways, Manierre is unique compared to the vast majority of schools slated to close on the South Side and West Side. Manierre is on the Near North Side, nestled next to some of the wealthiest areas in the city.
But in other ways, it is not different. Two months ago, CPS leaders announced their intention to close 54 schools, co-locate 11 and hand over six to the Academy of Urban School Leadership to be turned around. The end result of the school actions is that traditional, district-run neighborhood schools will become scarcer. Schools to which students have to apply and those run by private organizations will continue to take over, casting an ever-bigger shadow over the district.
The mayor and CPS officials have cast the move much differently, repeatedly saying that closings and consolidations will allow the district to redirect resources to fewer schools. And with the district facing a $1 billion budget shortfall, officials say closings will save $43 million a year in operating costs (starting in two years) and another $437 million in capital costs over the next decade.
“What we must do is to ensure that the resources some kids get, all kids get,” said Byrd-Bennett in a videotaped message on the CPS website. “With our consolidations, children are guaranteed to get what they need.”
Yet many of the district’s claims have drawn intense scrutiny and raised questions that undercut the rationale for closings as either a cost-savings or school improvement strategy.
Going to “better” schools
The first claim to face scrutiny is that students at closing schools will end up in higher- performing ones. According to state law, Byrd-Bennett has the authority to define “higher-performing,” and she determined that even when a school has the same performance rating, it can be considered higher- performing if it does better on a majority of the metrics, such as attendance and test scores.
Yet researchers note an important point: A move to a school that is only slightly better, at most, likely won’t mean much to students. The University of Chicago Consortium on School Research found that, in previous rounds of closings, displaced students only reaped an academic benefit if they were sent to markedly better schools, defined as those in the top quartile.
In this case, just six receiving schools out of 55 are in the top quartile of all CPS schools. And in only three cases—3 out of 53 closings—are kids being sent from a school in the lowest quartile to a school in the highest, according to an analysis by WBEZ. Two-thirds of the closing schools are among the lowest rated in CPS, but in 18 cases students will be sent to schools that are equally low-rated.
Even among the 12 receiving schools that have the highest CPS rating, there is a broad range in terms of performance. Chopin, on the Near North Side, has nearly 96 percent of students meeting standards on the ISAT and nearly 70 percent exceeding standards, while Faraday, on the West Side, has 73 percent meeting standards and about 13 percent exceeding them. Research has shown that students need to exceed standards to perform well in high school.
Furthermore, no one knows exactly how many students will end up at the designated “receiving school”---the one that by some measure is higher performing. Last year, less than half of students went to the designated receiving school with many parents choosing closer or more convenient schools that performed no better than the school they left, shows a Catalyst analysis.
CPS officials counter that the money invested into the receiving schools will improve technology and other resources. The schools will be air-conditioned, with iPads, playgrounds and libraries. The district is also designating 19 schools as specialty schools, with International Baccalaureate, STEM and fine arts programs. This year, the new specialty schools will receive $250,000 to $360,000 in extra money to pay for positions and training.
While leaders may have meant for this to sweeten the deal, parents and activists have been incredulous that their schools must close in order to get resources that are common place in other schools.
Parents also aren’t convinced that the new turnaround schools will be better for their children. CPS plans to hand over six schools to the Academy for Urban School Leadership for turnaround, which entails firing all or most of the staff, including the principal and the lunch ladies. For each turnaround, AUSL gets $300,000 in upfront costs, plus $420 per student for each student for at least five years.
Contracts with AUSL are for five years, but for several turnarounds they have been extended.
In her letter to parents, Byrd-Bennett said that turnaround schools have improved twice as fast as the CPS district-average.
“We want to provide your child with access to the same opportunities to boost their chance of academic success, which they will receive next school year if this proposal is approved,” she wrote.
Yet parents point out that many of the schools run by AUSL are not high-performers. Only one turnaround school, Morton, is a Level 1 school. And one of the closing schools, Bethune, is a turnaround.
Mathew Johnson, a parent at Dewey Elementary, says 98 percent of parents signed a petition saying they did not want their school given to AUSL. He says the school’s new administration seems to be on the right track and is doing a turnaround of its own.
“We are not afraid to hold the administration accountable,” says Johnson, who serves on the local school council.
Costs and savings
Because so many of the so-called “welcoming,” turnaround and co-locating schools lack resources, CPS officials will spend big money to get them up to par. In April, the Board of Education approved a supplemental capital budget that the district plans to finance with a $329 million bond.
About $155 million of that will go toward improvements at the receiving schools and another $60 million will fix up schools that are slated to be turned around or co- located with another school.
For the next 30 years, CPS will have to pay $25 million in interest and principal on the bond. This expense was not factored into the $43 million that CPS officials say they will save by undertaking these school actions.
CPS leaders have repeatedly cited budget problems as a rationale for closings--yet one reason CPS is facing perpetual large deficits is its already-existing debt. In the upcoming fiscal year, the district’s payment on principal and interest is scheduled to rise by about $100 million to $475 million.
Capital cost savings are also not likely to be higher than estimated. CPS officials lowered their original capital savings estimate and say the district will save $437 million over the next decade by not having to repair or maintain the 50-some buildings they are shuttering.
But only six of the closing schools have had recent assessments to determine their capital needs. In all of these cases, the updated assessments caused CPS to lower its savings estimate.
In order for the district to save real money from closing schools, it would have sell off shuttered schools and lay off a lot of teachers, said Emily Dowdall, a senior associate for the Philadelphia Research Institute, which is part of the Pew Charitable Trust.
CPS officials say they are going to work with city department heads to figure out what to do with vacant buildings, but there is no specific plan in place.
CPS has sought to steer the discussion away from teacher layoffs, though the closing schools have about 1,100 teachers.
“Many of these teachers will follow their students to welcoming schools per the joint CTU-CPS agreement included in last year’s teachers’ contract, which allows tenured teachers with Superior or Excellent ratings to follow students if their position is open at the welcoming school,” according to a CPS fact sheet.
But school closings will likely mean that class sizes will be bigger in the welcoming schools than in the closing ones, meaning that fewer teachers will be needed for the same number of students. A quarter of class sizes at closing and welcoming schools have fewer than 20 students—way below recommended sizes of 28 for primary grades and 31 for intermediate grades.
Not including these affected schools, only 9 percent of schools have such small class sizes.
Changing demographics, changing landscape
CPS officials have stressed that the main reason schools need to close is that 145,000 fewer school-age children live in the city than in 2000. But, as many have pointed out, enrollment in CPS has declined by much less: In September of 2013, CPS had 32,000 fewer students than in September of 2000.
Neighborhood schools have been hit hard by the district’s opening of new “schools of choice,” whether magnet schools, charter schools or selective enrollment schools. A Catalyst Chicago analysis of CPS data found that in 14 predominantly black South Side and West Side communities that CPS defines as “underutilized,” an average of 54 percent of elementary students attend their neighborhood school. In other communities, two-thirds of elementary students attend their neighborhood school.
If all of the school actions are approved on Wednesday, the landscape of public education will continue to change--especially for students in particular neighborhoods,
Next fall, CPS will run about 84 percent of public elementary schools in Chicago, down from 86 percent this year. The rest will be run by private entities, most by charter operators or AUSL.
The shifting landscape will result in fewer neighborhood schools—schools where students are guaranteed a spot if they live within the attendance boundaries. In 2000, nearly 98 percent of elementary school students attended neighborhood schools.
Also next fall, the percentage of elementary schools with attendance boundaries will drop to 70 percent, down from 75 percent this year (should all closings be approved and with the planned opening of 10 more elementary charter schools).
CPS officials say this might be the wave of the future as they try to increase choices, without increasing the number of buildings in the district’s portfolio.
For parents like Miranda, the shift means one of two things: taking their children further from home to get to the new neighborhood school, or filling out several applications to a ‘school of choice,’ then hoping and praying that they win a spot.
Like so many parents in the past few months, Miranda says going further away from home poses increased danger. Miranda is worried about a busy street that her children would have to cross to get to Jenner. Other parents in her school say that there’s an entrenched rivalry between Jenner and Manierre students, so much so that teams from the two schools aren’t even allowed to play each other in sports. They worry about fights and point to nasty posts on Facebook by Jenner students threatening those at Manierre.
Miranda says she doesn’t think this would be a problem at Newberry, LaSalle, Skinner North or Franklin—all of which are closer to Manierre than Jenner.
But these are all magnet or selective schools and assigning children to them is not the way CPS works these days.
Below is a slideshow of Monday's marches against school closings. The CTU organized three days of marches, which ended downtown. (Slideshow by Lucio Villa)
A three-day series of marches through neighborhoods with schools on the closure list was part of a final push organized by the Chicago Teachers Union and community groups before the Chicago Board of Education votes Wednesday on the closure plan. The marches will culminate Monday afternoon with a rally outside City Hall.
ACADEMIC BENEFIT DOUBTED: Only three of the 53 proposed grammar school closings to be voted on Wednesday by Chicago's School Board would move students from the lowest performing quartile of schools to the highest. Studies show that unless students move to top schools, they see no academic benefits. (WBEZ)
LEWIS WINS: Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis was easily re-elected to a second three-year term Friday, according to unofficial results released by the union.
TRIMMED CLOSING LIST POSSIBLE: At least a few of the 54 Chicago Public Schools targeted for closing could be dropped from the list before Wednesday’s final school board vote, under pressure from black aldermen to follow hearing officers’ recommendations, City Hall sources said Friday, the Sun-Times reported. The chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus has demanded that Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his handpicked school board follow retired judges’ recommendations to keep open 13 of the 54 schools.
IN THE NATION
SUSPENDING THE YOUNGEST: At least 1,967 students age 6 and under were suspended last school year -- almost all of them black or Hispanic, according to a report from the Connecticut Department of Education, The number of students suspended is actually higher, but privacy issues restrict the state agency from releasing information that could identify unique student information. (CT Mirror)
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis has announced that she won a second term in Friday's election, garnering 80 percent of the votes in preliminary results.
The election was a referendum on how well Lewis' leadership and the Caucus of Rank and File Educators handled the fall's teacher strike and contract negotiations.
The opposition caucus, Coalition to Save Our Union, charged that Lewis put style and big-picture promises over substance and results.
But many teachers said that Lewis' leadership during the strike, when she went head-to-head with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, proved decisive in their decisions to vote for her.
“You need a force like Karen Lewis to get in the face of the mayor,” said Emily Rosenberg, director of DePaul University's Labor Education Center and a supporter of Lewis. “She can't be bullied.”
As the union's biggest battle yet over school closings drags on, Rosenberg says the election “gives a signal to the whole city that (teachers are) solidly behind her, and that there's going to be a struggle.”
Almost buried in the whirlwind of news on school closings is the Chicago Teachers Union election, in which challenger Tanya Saunders-Wolffe is seeking to oust current President Karen Lewis.
Voting kicked off today, and early results may be released as soon as this evening.
Saunders-Wolffe, a guidance counselor at Jesse Owens Elementary on the Far South Side, is waging an uphill battle to unseat Lewis, harnessing dissatisfaction among many teachers with the latest union contract.
Saunders-Wolffe has also criticized Lewis and the current leadership team for their tactics against the district and City Hall.
“We have to give [teachers] a voice from the table. We can’t just keep screaming from the streets,” Saunders-Wolffe told Catalyst Chicago in March.
“We have done so many school visits. Teachers are really unhappy with the contract,” said Mary Ellen Sanchez, opposition candidate for recording secretary, who was outside Byrne Elementary in Garfield Ridge this morning. Sanchez teaches 3rd grade at Byrne.
Candidates on Saunders-Wolffe’s opposition slate, the Coalition to Save Our Union, are pledging to focus more on member services, which they charge have fallen by the wayside as Lewis’ team, the Caucus of Rank and File Educators, focuses on organizing. Organizing is a major component of CORE’s strategy, as Lewis’ team led the CTU through a week-long teachers’ strike last fall, Chicago’s first in 25 years. Immediately after the strike, CORE switched gears to fight school closings through protests and partnerships forged with community and parent groups.
The Coalition also wants to rebuild the union’s bridges with district management, despite a relationship that has grown increasingly bitter in recent years.
At Byrne, teachers enumerated the issues that swayed them to support the Coalition, many of them boiling down to unhappiness with the contract: longer days and hours that the pay raise didn’t make up for, a cut to paid before-school prep time, and an agreement to drop litigation over the contractually promised 4 percent raises that teachers didn’t get during the 2011-2012 school year.
“People were getting scared [because] the strike was too long,” and thus gave in too much at the negotiating table, said librarian Mary Beth Corbin. She also complained that even though the contract ended up including incentives to participate in a wellness plan, and even teachers who are participating are being charged due to bureaucratic snafus.
Scott Worden, Byrne’s special education teacher, said he was undecided but also felt the contract left much to be desired. “With the strike, I don’t think we gained anything,” Worden said. “No matter who’s in charge, we always lose something as teachers. The board’s going to win, because they’re going to sneak something in.”
At Kenwood Academy High School in Hyde Park, many teachers said they supported CORE and cited Lewis’ handling of the strike.
“I trust the leaders who led us through the strike to carry us through another year,” said science teacher Barbara Richter. Coreen Uhl, another staff member at the school, said Lewis “did a great job representing us during the strike, so I’ll be taking that into account.”
Added history teacher Shannon League: “I don’t think we could have asked for much more. In negotiations, you have to give a little.”
A Chicago Tribune review of documents related to Chicago Public Schools closings raises questions about how district officials used information to promote and defend its plan. In many cases, the district appears to have selectively highlighted data to stress shortcomings at schools to be closed, while not pointing out what was lacking at the receiving schools.
NO FAN OF MAYOR'S PLAN: In an exclusive interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle broadly criticized Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s education agenda Thursday, saying the Chicago Public Schools teachers’ strike last year had provided the excuse for a sweeping school-closure plan that “weakens our public schools.”
THE LONG WALK: A Tribune analysis of a database used by CPS to calculate the average distance students affected by school closings will have to travel to their reassigned school next year shows the average walk will be almost twice as far as it is now, increasing from about a third of a mile to nearly six-tenths of a mile.
DERAILING STUDENTS: Nearly 100,000 Chicago Public Schools students would have to find a new way to get to class starting next week, once the CTA shuts down the south end of the Red Line for a major track overhaul. According to the CTA, 98,000 students at 370 CPS schools would be affected by the reconstruction of the Dan Ryan branch of the Red Line, which is set to begin on Sunday. (CBS Chicago)
TURNAROUND CONCERNS: Parents and members of the Chicago Teachers Union stormed the steps outside the Academy of Urban School Leadership’s office Thursday and raised concerns over the Chicago Public Schools’ plan to turnaround six schools at the end of the academic year. CPS wants to fire and replace staff members at Clara Barton Elementary, William W Carter Elementary, Dewey Elementary Academy of Fine Arts, and Isabelle C O'Keeffe Elementary schools on the South Side and Thomas Chalmers Specialty Elementary and Leslie Lewis Elementary schools on the West Side as part of its recent round of school actions. AUSL would take over all six schools. The Chicago Board of Education will vote on the possible turnarounds and other school actions May 22. (Progress Illinois)
PODCASTS FOR POLICYMAKERS: The University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research is debuting a new podcast series, Ed. Research Matters, which will take a closer look at UChicago CCSR research, focusing on the findings that matter most for policymakers and practitioners. In the premiere episode, UChicago CCSR researcher Eliza Moeller, discusses From High School to the Future: The Challenege of Senior Year, released in February.
When I was introduced to the term “social-emotional learning” and began to understand its meaning I recognized it as a ray of hope. Hope for my community, which, seemingly unbeknownst to me, had changed dramatically over the years.
The only visible signs of change were the front lawns in the neighborhood, now less well-kept than in the past. Drive through the neighborhood today and you will see men standing on the corner of my block, where they have stood for years. But what you will not see is the blood that has been shed on that same corner, of men and women, young people to old. Yet the men continue to stand on that corner, where some of their own friends have lost their lives over the years.
I started searching for answers to these killings in 2008 when my neighbor’s son was killed on that very corner. My search led me to discover the concept of social-emotional learning and I am eternally grateful. I believe with all of my being that it gives hope to my community and can help stem the tide of violence in my neighborhood and others.
When my neighbor knocked on my door that fateful morning to let me know that her son had been killed, gunned down one block from our homes, it is hard to explain the depth of my feelings. When I finally could breathe, what I did was to evaluate myself and how I may have contributed to the senseless killing. I realized that not only didn’t I know my neighbor’s son, who had been killed--but I really didn’t know her or the other eight children she was raising as a single mother.
Yes, I had spoken to her and her children in passing, but that was on the surface. Why hadn’t I gotten to know them beneath the surface? I had been too busy with my own family, work, friends, etc., to get to know my neighbors. How did my block become a killing field, nicknamed ‘Beirut,’ I later learned--and how do we work to stop it? How did we get here?
In a sense, I had been asleep.
Now that I was awake, I had to decide what to do next. All this personal reflection was taking place around the same time our new president, Barack Obama, was elected. On January 19, 2009 he asked all of us to volunteer for a day. So I decided to look for an agency or organization my family could spend the day volunteering with, in my community or somewhere on the Southeast Side of Chicago.
When I checked the website the president’s group had published, not one Southeast Side organization was listed. I cried, because it seemed nobody cared about the children in my neighborhood. I called up my local park district and asked if I could volunteer. I started going to meetings
Fast-forward to the fall of 2013, when I was introduced to the concept of social-emotional learning and, for the first time, I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, defines the concept as a process through which children and adults learn how to effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. In an ideal world, social-emotional learning would be a part of every school curriculum in the nation.
In the quest to stop the killings in our community, my neighbors and I started a movement to have social-emotional learning whole-heartedly implemented in the schools in our community. In our research, we found that no elementary school in our area teaches social-emotional skills in any measurable way.
We believe that if children are taught sound decision-making, relationship-building, conflict management and other valuable life skills from pre-school through 12th grade, more of them will choose to go to college or the work force instead of joining gangs and participating in negative activity that will only land them in jail before they begin their lives.
Like President Obama has said, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or if we wait for some other time. We are the one’s we’ve been waiting for. We are the change we seek.”
When I woke up, I realized that I had to actively participate in leading my community out of Beirut.
Laura Rabb Morgan
Founder and servant leader, South Chicago Block Club Coalition SEL Grassroots Movement
In the two lawsuits filed in federal court Wednesday to try to slow down or stop school closings, the central charge is that special education students will be disproportionately hurt by the actions.
This, according to the lawsuits, is a violation of the American Disabilities Act. More than 5,000 students are enrolled in either the 53 schools slated for closure or the ones set to receive them.
“It takes years to build trust with these children,” says attorney Tom Geoghegan. “All that will be lost or destroyed when we send them to new teachers in new schools.”
One lawsuit asks the judge to force CPS to wait a year so that the district can ease the transition for special education students from one school to another. The other wants a judge to halt the closures, questioning whether CPS will save significant money from closing the schools.
Next Wednesday, the CPS Board of Education will vote on the actions, which would represent the largest district restructuring ever. The lawsuits ask for an emergency injunction, but Geoghegan says he isn’t requesting a hearing prior to the vote next week.
The lawsuits are being paid for, at least partially, by the Chicago Teachers Union. They were filed on behalf of parents at various schools slated for closure.
In years past, lawsuits have unsuccessfully attempted to block the district from shutting schools. It is a difficult task given that the school code allows districts to open and close schools.
In addition to alleging a violation of ADA, one of the lawsuits adds the allegation that closings are in violation of the Civil Rights Act because they single out “poor and marginalized African American children.” Some 88 percent of the students who stand to be affected by this year’s school closings are black, while they represent only 42 percent of students in CPS, according to the lawsuit.
“Since 2001, CPS has found one excuse or another to close schools attended by African American children,” Geoghegan says. “If you have to save money find some other place to save money. It is time to lay off the kids.”
Geoghegan also represented plaintiffs last year in a lawsuit that alleged racial discrimination in school actions. The lawsuit was dismissed, but is being appealed.
In a prepared statement, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett did not address the specific accusations in the lawsuit. She said the lawsuits show that the union leadership is “committed to a status quo that is failing too many of our children. “
"Thousands of children in underutilized schools are being cheated out of the resources they need to succeed,” said Bennett, who has promised extra resources for designated receiving schools. “It's time to give these children the opportunity to attend higher-performing welcoming schools and put them on a path to thrive."
One of the arguments for waiting a year is that CPS put off the decisions until the end of the school year. Geoghegan points out that usually decisions about school actions are made much earlier in the school year.
This year, Barbara Byrd-Bennett took over CPS in October and promptly asked the state legislature to let her delay the announcement from Dec. 1 to end of March. Because state law calls for 60 days between the announcement and the decision, the vote can’t take place until late May—only a few weeks before the end of school year.
“The late date makes it impossible to conduct the closings without significant disruption to the programs in which these children participate and without adequate provision for the special safety risks faced by children with disabilities,” according to the lawsuit.
Kristine Mayle, a former special education teacher and current financial secretary for the union, says that teachers take time to prepare disabled students for transitions.
“For students with autism and more severe disabilities, for six months, teachers might walk a student over to the classroom and slowly acclimate them to their new class,” she says.
CPS officials still have not said whether the teachers of special education students will follow the students and the students still do not know their teachers for the coming year, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also says that the transition plans around safety lack specificity, which is a particular problem for students with disabilities. The lawsuit points out that several independent hearing officers who reviewed the school closing plans also found problems with the lack of specificity.
“Plantiff children and all children in special education risk even greater harm than children who are not in special education to the extent that they are forced to walk through new, unfamiliar and dangerous neighborhoods, an experience that exacerbates the effects of their condition,” according to the lawsuit.
The other lawsuit charges that the school closings will cause special education students irreparable harm and that it outweighs any financial benefit to the school district. Among other issues, it says that class sizes in receiving schools will be bigger than those in closing schools. Big class sizes hurt special education students more than other students, according to the lawsuit.
Rod Estvan, education organizer for the disability rights group called Access Living, noted that it might be hard for attorneys to prove their case, even if it might have merit.
Estvan has been attending a CPS subcommittee on school actions and says CPS officials are methodically going through a checklist of steps to make sure they can defend the treatment of special education students. While he is not sure of the quality of what they are doing, Estvan says CPS will be able to show they are making an effort.
Yet he notes if CPS lawyers bring generic plans to the federal judge they may have problems. The independent hearing officers launched into CPS for providing general material.
“What they brought to the hearing officers was pathetic,” he says.
Soon after CPS leaders announced plans to close schools, parent advocates sounded the alarm that massive school closings would cause class sizes to swell in the receiving schools.
CPS officials tried to veer away from that discussion, as parents intuitively believe that smaller class sizes are better. Yet it is clear that larger class sizes will be one impact of closing schools that the district considers underutilized. Adding a student or two to classes in receiving schools frees up money, since fewer teachers will be needed and teacher salaries are the district’s biggest expense.
Though the capital cost savings for school closings are unclear and CPS has lowered its initial savings estimates on that front, officials have also estimated that increasing class sizes by just one student would save as much as $26 million per year.
Wendy Katten, the board president of Raise Your Hand, says that allowing class sizes to go up is the opposite of what most people want. Katten’s organization was started after former CEO Ron Huberman threated to raise class sizes to 35 students to close a budget deficit.
“Parents and teachers, people who are actually in the schools, know class size matters.[Class sizes going up] is certainly not what the stakeholders want,” Katten says.
Research suggests that class size does not have a major impact on achievement unless classes are 15 students or smaller. But the issue resonates with many teachers and parents, who note that classes in some schools are routinely 30 to 40 students, above the district’s own guidelines. They point out that suburban and elite private schools have much lower class sizes, especially in the lower grades.
After CPS leaders took pains to counter Raise Your Hand’s criticism, Catalyst Chicago asked CPS for class size data in December 2012 and then submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for the data in February. The information was provided in late April and shows that:
Schools that are underutilized according to the district’s formula have, on average, two fewer students than in schools deemed to be at capacity. Only 4 percent of classrooms in closing schools are above recommended class sizes and 12 percent of classrooms in underutilized schools.
About 850-more than 25 percent-of primary classrooms have more than 28 students, the amount recommended under the district’s contract with the teachers union. Class size has the most impact on young students, according to research.
Another 713 3rd thru 8th-grade classes have more than 31 students.
CPS officials have emphasized that closing schools will help get rid of split-grade classrooms, which are viewed as bad because teachers must teach to a wider range of ability levels. Schools slated for closure do have significantly more split-grade classes than other schools—but even in these schools, split grades are only 14 percent of the total.
Katten notes that in a lot of schools that are slated to close, the principal is using discretionary funds to keep class size low. Yet when schools are combined, it will be more difficult for principals to find the space to spread classes out, she says.
The issue of class size is constantly mentioned at rallies and marches against the planned closings. Margaret Cooley, at a march with her grandson from Overton to Mollison on Tuesday, says CPS “just wants to put them all in there and bunch them up.”
CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll says that principals often choose to add a student or two over the limit to classes, and that board policy only provides guidelines.
Carroll says it is “simply not true” that closing schools will lead to a larger number of over-sized classes.
“Principals will make decisions around class size that they believe are in the best interest of their students,” Carroll says. “All welcoming schools, which are also underutilized, will be within their appropriate utilization range.”
Kristine Mayle from the CTU says principals have a “false” choice. Sometimes they decide to increase class size by one or two students so they can hire a full-time art or music teacher.
“They are supposed to do what is best for students and sometimes that means hiring an extra security guard because they are in an unsafe neighborhood,” Mayle says.
The union has a committee to which teachers in overcrowded classrooms can complain, but Mayle says it has limited staff to investigate and limited access to resources to provide the teacher with relief.
“We are not talking about a kindergarten teacher with 29 students, but rather the one with 40 students,” she says.
At the same time CPS is closing a record number of schools, it also is implementing per-pupil budgeting in which schools get a set amount of money per student, rather than budgets allocated based on the number of teachers needed in a school. That also could have an impact on class size, Mayle says.
“Principals will have an incentive to pack students in,” she says.
Contributing: Linda Lutton (Chicago Public Radio-WBEZ)
Attached is an Excel spreadsheet with class size data, provided by CPS. It is from the 20th day of school. It includes information about which schools are slated to close and which ones slated to receive them.
In a May 3rd memo, Chicago Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago wrote: “Chicago Public Schools have asked the Chicago Fire Department to assist in its transition strategy with the closing of over 50 schools. And that involves having a strong physical presence on each safe passage route for all welcoming schools for three weeks," WGN TV reports. The head of the Fraternal Order of Police says that request shows that the Chicago Police Department is not up to the task.
UTILIZATION OUT, RESOURCES IN: The rhetoric around school closings is now about focusing resources, writes Curtis Black of Newstips.org. This shift in communication strategy is dictated by the fact that school closings turn out not to be about deficits or utilization — given they won’t save money for several years, if ever, and since the “utilization crisis,” caused by adding 50,000 charter seats during a decade when CPS lost 30,000 students, is being addressed by adding more charters. CPS chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett now says closing schools will allow CPS to provide libraries, air conditioning, iPads and “learning gardens” at a small group of receiving schools.
DEPAUL DEAL: Word leaking out of City Hall indicates that a big chunk of the financing for a new DePaul arena would come from the pot of cash that robs millions from public schools, WLS is reporting. This would be very controversial because Emanuel is on the point of closing 54 schools.
ANOTHER WAY: CPS has an alternative to school closings, turnarounds and charters, according to writer Rob Warmowski: a school improvement approach called Focused Instruction Process that was developed by non-profit Strategic Learning Initiatives and was used successfully in six Chicago schools and is now being used in several high schools outside Chicago. Catalyst has this op-ed about the approach and its success.
TEST TOUTING: In an attempt to slowly change the academic culture of Proviso Township High School District 209, teachers, administrators – even the PTO – have been reminding students of the importance of state testing. The results seem to have paid off with significantly more participation, especially at Proviso East High School. (Forest Park Review)
IN THE NATION
THE FIRE NEXT TIME: In the Atlantic, John Tierney writes that he sees a new revolution taking shape in American K-12 public education.
CORE SUPPORT: Backers of the common core intensify their efforts to tout the standards in the face of high-profile opposition in some states. (Education Week)