In 2013, Chicago’s school district had a $1 billion hole in their budget. The deficit was years in the making, despite numerous local tax levies passing to try to fill it. When the district closed 50 schools as a result, they promised the families of relocated students that the new, more concentrated use of resources would benefit everyone. Nearly 12,000 students, mostly African-American students from the poorest parts of the city, were affected.
The University of Chicago’s Consortium on School Research has scrutinized the records of those affected students and the surviving schools and concluded that the reality is different from the promises. Academic achievement, at least as measured by standardized testing, has gone down since the closures. Curiously, students suffered worse in math and science than in English, the only metrics tested for in Chicago’s standardized tests. GPA does not seem to have been affected.
Staff blame inadequate preparation for the closures and mergers.
“School staff said that the planning process for merging closed schools into welcoming schools was not sufficient, resulting in staff feeling unprepared. Getting school buildings ready to receive students on time was challenging because the moving process was chaotic. When schools closed, it severed the longstanding social connections that families and staff had with their schools and with one another, resulting in a period of mourning. A lack of proactive efforts to support welcoming school communities in integrating the populations created challenging ‘us vs. them’ dynamics,” said an excerpt from the researchers’ report.
The results of the research appear to support the criticism of the mergers from 2013–that closing underperforming schools to solve a budget problem was a business decision, not an education decision. After the closures, Chicago pledged not to close any more schools for five years. That span will end this year. Hopefully, this research will inform what they do next.
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