chicago closing2

There are two ALEC style education bills that Washington State Senator Steve Litzow sponsored, SB5328 and SB 5329. The first bill would grade schools and the second bill would either close the “low performing” schools permanently, convert them into charter schools, have the principal fired or replace half of the teaching staff.

These two bills represent what has become the favored process for privatizing our public schools; label schools as “failing” and then turn them into charter schools.

The Republican dominated Washington State Senate recently passed the bills and now they are sitting on the desks of our education committee members in the House.

I and other Parents Across America affiliated members visited with our House Education committee members last week and discussed our concerns about the two bills.

Everyone who we visited was glad to see us and they all said the same thing…they are not hearing from parents as a whole. They hear a lot from Stand for Children but not from the rest of us.

If you are reading this blog, you understand the issues of our day, far better than most. Please call or e-mail your representatives as informed citizens and let them know what you think. It’s one thing to agree with what I’m saying but now it’s time to take the next step and contact folks in Olympia.

CReATE just came out with a study brief on school closures that I would recommend reading. The effects that school closings are having in Chicago and Philadelphia would be the same in Seattle. Instead of supporting schools, the corporate privatizers simply want to close them and open them as charter schools or walk away from schools, abandoning the communities as well.

To follow are excerpts from the brief, the highlighted text is mine. Don’t miss the kicker at the end of this report in the conclusion section.

Dora Taylor

Teachers, parents and students marching against school closures in Chicago.
Teachers, parents and students marching against school closures in Chicago.

CReATE Releases Research Brief on School Closures

When a school is closed, the facility is shut down, school staff is displaced, children are sent to other schools, and the community loses a vital resource. If Chicago Public Schools (CPS) follows the city’s Commission on School Utilization March 2013 recommendations, 80 CPS neighborhood schools (13% of the entire system) will be closed, disrupting the lives of nearly 25,000 children. CPS expects that students will need to travel an added 1 to 1½ miles to get to their new schools. Over the years, CPS has mobilized three different types of arguments to justify school closings: underperformance, cost savings, and underutilization. In this new brief CReATE researchers examine each of these arguments in relation to current educational research.

Students from turnaround or closed CPS schools who moved to academically stronger schools, and/or schools with strong student-teacher relationships, experienced the greatest gains from school closures.

However, the reality of school closures in the CPS system suggests that students accessing academically stronger schools are the exception, not the rule. A 2009 study by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR) found that 82% of students from 18 elementary schools closed in Chicago moved from one underperforming school to another underperforming school, including schools already on probation.

In a follow up 2012 report, the CCSR determined that 94% of students from closed Chicago schools did not go to “academically strong” new schools.

According to the 2009 CCSR study, “One year after students left their closed schools, their achievement in reading and math was not significantly different from what we would have expected had their schools not been closed.”

The authors conclude that, overall, there were no significant positive or negative effects on academic achievement resulting from the closure when students transferred to comparable schools.

On the other hand, a study by Kirshner, Gaertner, and Pozzoboni (2010) contradicts the no-effect findings when examining comparable transition schools.

The authors  found that students who transitioned into new schools following closure scored lower on tests one year after closure; they were at an increased risk of dropping out, as well as an increased risk of not graduating. Interview data from this study suggests closure was viewed negatively by transitioning students and imposed a stigma upon them that followed them into their new schools. The researchers found that test score trends on standardized tests for transfer students declined after the closure was announced.

School closing protest in Chicago.
School closing protest in Chicago.

Test scores for students from the cohort that transferred to other schools continued to decline for two standardized test administrations after the closure announcement.

School closings will also negatively affect the achievement levels for students in the receiving schools. A Michigan State University study found that “while the closing of low-performing schools may generate some achievement gains for displaced students, part of these gains will likely be offset by spillover effects onto receiving schools.” For one thing, closings often lead to increased class sizes and overcrowding in receiving schools. As a result, the pace of instruction is slower and the test scores of both mobile students and non-mobile students tend to be lower in schools with high student mobility rates. One study comparing the curricular pace of stable schools and highly mobile schools in Chicago found that highly mobile schools lagged behind stable schools by one grade level on average.

In various cities, school closures have led to several negative experiences for displaced students, including a doubling of the likelihood of dropping out of school, increased school violence, lowered likelihood of enrolling in summer school programs in the summer following school closure, higher rates of school-to-school mobility, disrupted peer relationships, and weaker relationships with adults.

Closures disrupted relationships students had established with adults and other students at their closed schools, leaving the students with few social and emotional supports to help them adjust to the challenges of the new school.

Relation between closures and charters Chicago Public Schools and charter schools operators consistently claim that school closures have nothing to do with charter schools and that CPS will not repurpose the closed schools into charter schools….

There are many reasons to believe that school closures are directly related to the expansion of the charter school system. First, the budget deficit, in part, can be attributed to the costs of expanding the charter school system. In FY 2012, $350 million was budgeted for the Office of New Schools, the office devoted to developing new charter and contract schools. For the upcoming fiscal year, CPS allocated an additional $23 million to fund new charter schools, nearly half of what they estimate they will save if they close 80 neighborhood schools. In addition, the United Neighborhood Organization (UNO) was successful in lobbying the Illinois General Assembly for an additional $35 million to expand their charter school network in 2012, at a time when the state cut over $200 million from the public school budget.

Protestors against the school closures in Chicago.
Protestors against the school closures in Chicago.

Second, there is a strong local and national trend of converting closed public schools into privately operated charter schools. Forty-two percent of all closed public schools across the U.S. have been turned into charter schools. Chicago parallels that trend, with 40% of its closed public schools converted into privately operated charter schools.

Moreover, the reopened charter schools did not necessarily benefit neighborhood children. A study of closed neighborhood schools that were reopened as charter schools in Chicago showed a transformation in the student body attending these reopened schools. The new students tended to be more affluent, with higher prior achievement, and fewer of them had special needs. The schools also served fewer students from the neighborhoods in which the schools were situated.

Third, Chicago Public Schools currently has plans to expand their charter system. In 2012, CPS signed the Gates Compact with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (a non-profit that financially supports the expansion of charter schools). As part of the Gates Compact, CPS pledged to open an additional 60 charter schools in the near future. Already CPS has plans to open 13 new charters in 2013, despite their claim that the system is underutilized. If the future location of charter schools mirrors the existing trends, then the new charter schools will be located in the neighborhoods facing traditional public school closures…

Finally, the people in charge of the closure process and Chicago Public Schools leadership are supporters of charter school expansion. The current CPS CEO, Barbara Byrd- Bennett, is a Broad Foundation executive coach, training superintendents in the principles of business model school reform. The Broad Foundation invests millions in transforming schools into more privately controlled entities and seeks to train the next generation of leaders to realize the charter school takeover of the public schools. A recent memo issued by the Foundation proposes what the Washington Post quotes as “a series of strategic shifts in the foundation’s education programs designed to ‘accelerate’ the pace of ‘disruptive’ and ‘transformational’ change in big city school districts.”

The Broad Foundation released  a 2009 report detailing the political tactics and strategies public officials should employ when conducting mass school closures. We see many of their recommendations implemented in this current round of school closures in Chicago, including: using the language of how a school is designed for X number of children but only Y number are using it; emphasizing declining enrollment; stating that the current use is an inefficient utilization of facilities; and insisting that closures will allow officials to “right-size” the system.

Additionally, CPS’ communications department acknowledged that the Walton Foundation, founded by the family who owns Wal-Mart, gave CPS a grant for $478,000 to finance the community engagement process around the “utilization crisis.”

The Walton Foundation is an avid supporter of charter school proliferation, giving $700 million to “choice” schools in a bid to transform public education into a privately controlled domain.

Protesters in CHicago where 100 were arrested for practicing civil disobedience.
Protesters in Chicago where 100 were arrested for practicing civil disobedience.

Racial Disparities of School Closings

…Disinvestment in public schools and empty buildings will deepen the hardship confronting neighborhoods already suffering from community disinvestment and may contribute to even further population loss of African Americans in Chicago. For example, WBEZ aggregated data on abandoned properties, city-owned vacant lots, and community area census figures from the city’s data portal site, and mapped them on top of the locations of the schools targeted for potential closure.

They found that school closures directly correspond to the locations of troubled mortgages, foreclosures, and population loss. Closing neighborhood schools will discourage people from moving back into these disinvested communities.

Furthermore, closures may exacerbate tensions between communities and lead to violence. Since 2004, school closures that transfer students to schools outside their immediate neighborhoods have resulted in spikes of violence in and around elementary and high schools.

We strongly caution policy makers to consider the added stressors that closures bring to these communities.

School closures also disproportionately impact African American teachers. The Chicago Teachers Union reports that African Americans made up nearly 40% of all CPS teachers in the 1990s. By 2012, that proportion was reduced to under 20%.

In previous rounds of Chicago school closings, 65% of the teachers displaced were African American women.

A 2012 report by the Consortium on Chicago School Research on school closings and turnarounds determined that, “The teacher workforce after intervention across all models was more likely to be white, younger, and less experienced, and was more likely to have provisional certification than the teachers who were at those schools before the intervention.”

Chicago Teachers Rally


At present, the data reviewed in this research brief does not support Chicago Public Schools’ claim that closures are a viable solution to the current issues in the district.

Instead, their greatest potential is to inflict deeper harm on African American and Latino/a communities. In addition to the current issues of privatization (via charter school expansion) and displacement, massive school closings are poised to continue the legacy of mass displacement, marginalization and isolation of low-income communities of color in Chicago.

Contributing to our concern is the revelation by the Chicago Sun-Times that Tom Tyrell, a former Marine colonel whose military credentials include hostage negotiation in the war in Kosovo, has been appointed by CPS as the official in charge of administering school closings. As CReATE, we are charged to pose the following question: If CPS has hired a former military official to administer school closings, what is the assumption of the central office regarding the potential of conflict if the closures are implemented? In so doing, we predict a heavy-handed response from law enforcement if the current closures, which do not even serve their stated purposes, are implemented.