Always Be Closing

There's no easy or perfect way to close schools for under-enrollment, no satisfying folks who can't imagine ANY school being closed, and an awful lot of ways to do it wrong. But Chicago isn't the first or only district to lose enrollment and have to close schools, and there's even a 2011 study of how other districts did it from the folks at Pew (PDF here).  Maybe there are some useful lessens there about how to do it at least somewhat better.  Or maybe we can come up with some.Theoretically, this year's closures should be easier since they're enrollment-based rather than performance-based, but, well, only in theory.

And theoretically it should be easier since Byrd-Bennett has done this before, in Detroit, notes this Atlantic Cities article, but again, only theoretically.

In reality, school closing opponents in the teachers union and community groups are in massive denial about the need to close schools, and highly motivated since the "successful" strike and forced departure of Brizard.  In this way, they're sort of like Tea Party Republicans right after the 2010 elections, unconcerned about long-term dynamics (or the growth of Latino voters).

The Board is pushing ahead with this March 31 delaying strategy, which I don't think is going to work or help.

My crazy idea to help the process would be to take charters out of the equation for a year, sort of like LAUSD did with its revised Public School Choice program under Deasy.  Schools can get closed, and turned around, but charters aren't charged with doing turnarounds (which most don't want to do anyway) and don't get access (or at least first choice) of buildings emptied out by closures and under-enrollment. Let new charters open as before, but keep that separate from the closing and turnaround procedures, in terms of buildings, decisions, etc.

Or, do it like the old military base closing commission, and set up and independent entity to come up with a list and process that can be voted up or down but not cherry-picked.

What's your idea?


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  • Alexander I did download the Pew report and it seems clear that the savings per closed school are pretty low. This is pretty much what I thought and Ms. Karp's excellent Catalyst article pointed out about a week ago. But since I am currently developing formal comments for submission to CPS on its 2012-2013 Draft School Action Guidelines the document is very helpful. Thanks for posting it.

    I agree that the school closing and charter opening issue should be seperated. But unfortunately CPS seems to be feeling out charter networks in relation to taking over specific sites or at least that is my impression. I am not sure in the least that all charter school networks have bought in to this idea either.

    One thing that the Pew report made very clear was that if CPS or any district closes a school and leaves it empty it starts costing money real fast. The Pew report also demonstrates how districts that closed schools can not find buyers for the property in depressed communities. So this raises the stakes for CPS, if it closes a school it has to tear it down, sell it if it can, or hand it off to the city fast.

    Rod Estvan

  • So Rod, if this is the case can you please explain why CPS would want to close and consolidate schools? If they are not saving money and the bldgs being empty would cause more of a liability, what is the motivation? Also, @ Alex I think consolidations would be tricky and not as simple as you state. I dont think closing a school is an obvious solution to it being under enrolled. Has CPS done it to a large scale in the past? Not to my knowledge...only a few consolidations here and there. I think they are underestimating the nuances of relocating kids en masse and the effects that it will have short and long term. What research is being used to support closing under enrolled schools and what is the effect on student achievement?

  • In reply to Kaylon:

    if this is the case can you please explain why CPS would want to close and consolidate schools?

    Closing and consolidating schools means diminishing the membership and therefore the power of the CTU. That is certainly an item high up on CPS/Mayor Emanuel's priority list.

  • In reply to district299reader:

    Kaylon I can’t speak for CPS, but the cost savings numbers they have been giving to the media ranging from $300,000 to $800,000 per year per school do not appear to include any mothballing costs for closed schools that are not rapidly demolished. It is also totally unclear how they are factoring in additional costs related to the displaced students at receiving schools.

    My fear is that CPS is spinning numbers and budgeting by public relations which in the current fiscal environment will be a disaster. As to why CPS is going ahead with the hassle and stress of closings if the cost saving are truly small as the Pew report and Ms. Karp’s Catalyst article suggest we can speculate some on two unspoken reasons.

    1. CPS and the city believe that various communities in Chicago are becoming under populated and will continue to move in that direction over the next ten years or so. This means that not only those schools currently deemed under enrolled can be closed, but the schools receiving students themselves will continue to lose students. Once the receiving schools lose enough students teachers can be laid off and classrooms consolidated. Including creating multi grade classrooms taught by one teacher if necessary.

    2. In certain receiving schools one year after the initial transfer of students is done CPS can use its legal ability under the existing CTU contract to increase class sizes in that school which is where big cost savings can be realized. The CTU contract allows the CPS CEO to order a class size increase in individual schools to respond to apparent over crowding. But that section is extremely open ended and SB7 legally prohibited the CTU from further forcing definition of this section via the strike mechanism. Please recall at the end of the strike CPS had just filed litigation against the CTU over violations of SB7, while it was a weak case it was CPS’ first shot and they would have gotten better with further modifications of their original complaint.

    Is it CPS’ strategy to weaken the CTU via closures over the long run? I would suggest given the overall hostility of the Board to the union that certainly could be a motivating factor. But we would also be wrong not to look at demographic factors of depopulation of Chicago’s poorer communities as a motivation. Its not just the CPS that is downsizing its the entire city.

    Rod Estvan

  • I know of some charter schools that have never made AYP in up to 14 years of their entire existence, and even been on the receiving end of the highest negative sanctions from the federal government, yet are praised by the Secretary of Education as models for educating inner city African Americans. Personally, I don't have a problem with charter schools. I do have a huge problem with our education policies that diminish resources available to traditional neighborhood schools while diverting them to charters; promoting charters while stigmatizing neighborhood schools; insisting that the magic comes from the legal structure of the school versus leadership, environmental factors and children's readiness and discipline; creating disruption by closing/turning around and upside down schools wholesale and perpetuating the myth that success in education can be replicated like producing widgets in assembly lines; the fact that charter schools are not held accountable to the same standards and consequences that traditional schools are; that has CPS board members advocating for resources for charters and leaving neighborhood schools to die on the vine; demonizing the unions and scapegoat teachers and principals. This is just the short list. Bottom line is, CPS needs to stop creating policies that pit charters versus neighborhood schools and cannibalize their own institutions. The people who are on the board would never do that in their own businesses, and should not be doing it to public schools.

  • Why are not area offices closed or combined? There is huge money savings there to go right back into the schools. All those area officer salaries, assistant officers, assitants to the assistant and the rest of the number of highly paid personnel-- to do what? nothing--

  • good point. If there were hearings to close area offices, only the employees from the area offices would attend to fight it--the mayor must not know what a waste these offices are.

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  • "Always be Closing"

    I just have to say --- brilliant headline. Hee hee. :)

  • A bit racist – not the first from Mr. Brooklyn

  • In reply to district299reader:

    Alex, this is the second time this year you've used a headline that I find racially offensive. Whether it's intended or not, the broken English is a dog whistle for the Archie Bunkers of this world and for those who enjoy mocking the inner-city.

  • it's a famous line from a David Mamet play, Glengarry Glen Ross I think. The boss tells his salespeople to always be closing (deals).

  • this is the clip

  • It's a hilarious title. ABC. Always be closing from Glengarry Glen Ross. No racism there.

  • Extend deadline for closing Chicago schools -

  • There were ten high schools in my home county (Harlan KY) when my parents were of school age; four when I was in high school; three when I taught there. Two years ago they were consolidated into one school. (Population hit a high of 80,000 in the 1940s, but is less than 30,000 today.)

    Consolidation happens everywhere across this country. Economies of scale lead to greater efficiency.

    My large school (3,100+) gets less money per pupil than many small schools. I believe that's unfair to my students.

    Where the economies of scale are may well vary from one school to another. I don't pretend to know how "under-enrolled" a school should be to be closed or consolidated. But there's got to be a cutoff somewhere, and once that threshold is crossed, the Board should close the school.

    Sadly, I don't trust CPS to carry out the process in a fair way. Years of watching them screw things up makes me cynical.

    I must say, I think Alex's suggestion that a military base closing commission model may be the best way to go.

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