At the end of this year my city, Chicago is closing a total of 49 Elementary Schools which is the largest in the city’s history. The largest source of revenue for the district, 40% comes from local sources (mostly local property taxes). The state provides 31% of funding via the general state aid (GSA), based on a complicated formula set by the state legislature and finally the Federal government provides 24% of the funding through the Title 1 program and paying for the free & reduced lunch program. Illinois ranks second lowest in the nation for the level of funding that the state provides for education. As a teacher, it is abominable how low education is on the list of funding priorities.
The appointed school board voted 6-0 to close the schools. As a parent, I had no voice at the table because the school board was appointed by the mayor, not voted on by the community. At parent meetings, we were told that my step son’s school was “underutilized” because the test scores were great. Other schools were told they were “underperforming.” The majority of the schools that are closing are on the South Side and West Side which are mainly African American and Latino communities. A war is being waged on teachers based on decontextualized test scores. According to the ASCD, “Employing standardized achievement tests to ascertain educational quality is like measuring temperature with a tablespoon.” I work at one of the best schools in the city, which is not being threatened by closure but honestly our students come in as excellent test takers and while we are helping them to learn is it really fair to compare our students to another school whose students are reading two or three grade levels behind?
In a recent study from the University of Chicago, it was found that the academic effects of sending children to other schools was mostly nothing. This is a direct contradiction to the rhetoric that the decision to close the schools is better for the children. And while we’re talking about the children, stability and security is essential to a child’s welfare and self-esteem. Imagine the trauma for students who already have stability and security issues at home. If our communities had a higher socio-economic make-up, we’d see counselors and resources spent to help our children, our families and the receiving schools make the transition in the form of counseling, safety and morale-building. Chicago has promised a five-year moratorium on school closings, but what is being done to prevent the receiving schools from becoming “underperforming,” due to overcrowding and other issues. The moratorium will be in place long enough to close another 50 schools in 5 years.
CPS will also be shifting to a new funding model called student based budgeting rather than an assumed class size of 30 for all classes. For the first time charter schools will be receiving an equal amount to public schools. With all the school closings, it is unknown exactly how many charter schools are opening next year. Chicago is in need of real reform, and the center of that reform should be what is in the best interest of the students. Everyone wants to talk to the lawyers & the accountants about school reform, but no one wants to talk to the parents and the teachers about our children’s education.
What do you think needs to be done to improve schools?