Closing Criteria Unveiled, New Schools OKd (Chicago, IL)

Chicago officials just announced their new school closings criteria – but not the list of schools to be closed – developed after an extensive outreach process that apparently included over 35 public meetings, 750 individual participants, various surveys, and 20 high-level meetings with stakeholder groups to figure out how to determine which schools should go through "rebirth."

After all that, the new school closing criteria are more clearly defined but substantively not all that different from the ones used three years ago when Arne Duncan announced that he was closing Dodge, Williams, and Terrell and kicked off the whole “Renaissance/rebirth” idea that eventually morphed into Renaissance 2010.

In fact, while CPS has recently ratcheted up to 40 percent its requirements to keep off probation and match more closely with NCLB, the requirements announced today -- average 25 percent ITBS/ISAT for elementary schools -- are actually more lenient in some ways than they were three years ago, when they were 17 percent ISAT/20 percent ITBS. The new cutoff for high schools is 10 percent on the PSAE over the past four years.

Roughly 20 elementary schools don't meet the academic criteria, and roughly the same number of high schools. There are 60 schools that have been on probation for five years or more, and 23 that have failed to meet NCLB requirements for five years.

But the criteria aren't all strictly academic. CTU “partnership” schools are exempted from being closed for at least another year, as are schools with relatively new principals and those that have only been on probation for a year. CPS also won't close schools if that would displace students for two years in a row. Schools that are making steady gains are exempted, no matter how low their scores are.

Perhaps most importantly, however, many of the lowest-performing schools in the city are going to be exempted because there’s no viable option nearby -- a CPS requirement for closing a school that may be one of its most questionable considerations. Limiting closings to communities with other options nearby means that communities like those identified in the recent IFF report with many low-performing schools but no better-performing school with space to take students are once again left out of the process. They won't have any schools closed, and they're as a result much less likely to get a new school under Renaissance 2010.

Despite the convenience to parents and CPS of sticking to options within walking distance, wouldn't some parents be willing to put their children on a bus if it meant going to a substantially better school? Obviously, they would. These communities should be targeted for transformation, not bypassed: Chicago plan lacks "strategic" view (This Week In Education).

What’s really different here is that the criteria are being announced publicly, relatively early in the school year, and somewhat separately from the list of schools that meet the criteria (which someone could theoretically deduce on their own if they had the time). The benefit is that this gives schools and parents more time to prepare, but the obvious downside is that the schools whose closings will be announced next week, while relatively few, won’t have 2005 test scores to prove themselves, and will function as lame ducks from now until June. Schools to be closed are being notified prior to the Tuesday announcement.

Even more of a question is whether closing schools really works at all. CPS is resting its justification for closing what will ultimately be as many as 60 schools on the rebirth of just two schools, Dodge and Williams. Last year, 10 schools were closed in June for low enrollment, a factor that is not included in this year's criteria. No additional schools will be closed for the rest of the year, according to CPS, including the 23 schools in NCLB 'restructuring.'

In the meantime, CPS announced that it was approving 12 out of the roughly 90 proposals it received this fall for new schools:
12 Renaissance 2010 schools OKd over sharp objections (Chicago Sun-Times).

What’s interesting to note here is that so much of the public protest against Ren-10 seems to have dissipated. CTU objections are now narrowly focused on the sky-is-falling charter schools/privatization/voucher argument: “Privatization of Chicago schools will lead to less accountability to parents, higher staff turn over in the classroom and take us down the slippery slope to school vouchers,” states a recent press release from CTU president Marilyn Stewart. Hmm.

In fact, some of those who are privately most upset about the announcement of the 12 new schools are those front-runner proposals that did not get approved. This includes two established charter operators who didn’t get the nod at Arai, as well as a widely-praised proposal for a new school at Lucy Flower that has been delayed but may still go through. There are some rumblings that the supply of quality proposals could drop. To be fair, however, there’s no clear pattern to the approvals, in that the Board went with a mix of both TAC first choices and CPS/CHSRI favorites.

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