CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett answers questions from the media on school closings and CPS performance.

You would think that parents would be rioting in the streets if after 17 years of Chicago Public School reform, only 25% of the CPS 4th Grade kids were reading at grade level. But, according to the Mainstream reporters present at the City Club of Chicago yesterday, Mayor Emanuel and CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the main problem is not non-performing schools but too many empty seats at the CPS and the need to close schools to save money. Suddenly, the Mayor has discovered that Paul Vallas, Arne Duncan (Now Obama’s secretary of Education) and Ron Huberman have been building new schools but not closing old schools during a period of declining enrollment, resulting in 100,000 unnecessary seats for students.

Also, according to the Mayor and his CPS CEO , there is too much uncertainty and angst in the community.  We don’t need choice and competition to spur improved performance by the CPS? No, says the mayor’s CEO, we need stability. Economists would say the CPS is in a large part a monopoly seller of educational services. Yes, there are a few alternative private schools, but Chicago taxpayers give up their “free  or $15,000 per kid per year CPS education if they opt for a private school.’’ So, CPS is similar to a monopoly provider of edcational services, with very limited competitive alternatives.   And, the CTU is a monopolistic seller of teaching services, raising the cost, above the competitive level , to CPS.  And, the residents and students at CPS are big time losers, paying more for inferior educational  services- relative to what they could get under the competitive model of school vouchers-school choice


–Only 25% of CPS 4th graders read at grade level?

Jeff Berkowitz: Robin Steans, [Executive Director of] Advance Illinois, said that approximately 25% of the kids in CPS are reading at grade level- do you agree with that number? She was talking about 4th graders, I believe.

CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett: I am reviewing- I don’t have that number at my finger tip and I have been reviewing that data, but I have been a little bit preoccupied at this moment around another issue [School closings] . I would suspect that she is closer to being correct than not, but I don’t have the exact number at my mind.

–Improving reading scores at CPS

Berkowitz: How long would it take to up that number significantly and how would you do that?  

CEO Bennett: I think there are a number of ways. First of all, starting with the number, you’ve got to disaggregate the data, you’ve got to determine- I could go through all the education stuff-just where children are not learning; what do I need to do with teacher professional development to insure they have the skills and the abilities, you have to take a look at the materials that are being used, the methodology, whether the scheduling allows for the sufficient time on task; whether children are grouped appropriately-so that kids who can move more quickly can and those who need more intervention, get it.  So there are a number of strategies, so you have to really take a look at the data, disaggregate that data and look for patterns and trends before you put an action plan in place.

–Who would have thunk it? Mayor Emanuel wants a moratorium on School Closings next year.

Another reporter: So, about the moratorium. Where is this coming from? Has this been expressed to you by state legislators like Soto and Iris Martinez? Are they asking for a five year moratorium going forward on school closings?

Bennett: No.

Another  Reporter: They have not demanded any such thing.

Bennett: No.

Another Reporter:  How did it come up. I mean, is it something you have been discussing with the Mayor.

–The Mayor doesn’t want to replace non-performing schools with performing schools?  He wants stability?

Bennett:  Actually, I thought I made that clear. Yes, it was a discussion with the Mayor…It started with what I considered the lack of stability and the angst in the community when we start talking about school closings, utilization, etc. And, it was the Mayor who said—we’ve got to figure out how we stabilize our communities and how people aren’t so anxious every single year. You can’t get any traction if everybody is always worried about- think of it as your home- whether or not you are going to be dispossessed from your “home.” So, you can’t get stable, you can’t get the traction you need and so what he did say was—what if we get this extension, then I would be willing and I would like to see a moratorium. So, that was the genesis of the Moratorium. It was the Mayor and we went and had a conversation with the Board and here we are.

Another  Reporter: The problem is you have now accelerated the angst because people are afraid you are going to drop some massive “closing bomb” this year as you try to “rightsize” the district and people are …afraid you can’t just do it all this year.


Bennett said there is no specific number now as to the number of schools they want to close. The plans for charter schools don’t enter into these utilization plans, she said. A nine member commission will make recommendations on March 31, 2013, if the proposed legislation is passed this week, for CPS closings, then there will be a five year moratorium on further closings.


Berkowitz: How important is utilization relative to performance for the closure decision? For example, if the school is low performance, but high utilization [at a specific school], then–

Bennett: Performance has nothing to do with our utilization plan. They are two separate questions.

Berkowitz: But, for closure, performance has something to do with it, right?

Bennett: I am not closing a school for performance. Utilization is something totally different.


 Above is a partial transcript of a media availability that followed remarks by CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett to the City Club of Chicago on Monday, November 26, 2012  


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