Career Calling

March 25, 2013

Sabbath, March 24, 2013

[On Sundays, this blog explores diverse issues in Sabbath.”]

School Closings in Chicago – Reform or A Trojan Horse?

Today’s Chicago Sun-Times features a great analysis on school closings in Chicago.  A chart that accompanies the article shows that students from over 1/3 of the will be moved to schools that are ranked no better or even worse than the ones they are leaving.  The chart also indicates that several of the schools have met performance goals.  Is this how education is “reformed”?

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is featured in a separate article in the paper.  Unlike those officials who say the schools are being closed because they are “underutilized,” the mayor only talks about giving students more opportunity:  “We look at it and viewed it as what we can do to have every child have a high-quality education regardless of their neighborhood, regardless of their circumstances, regardless of where they live.”

If the mayor is sincere in these words, he should be very troubled by the information put forth by the Sun-Times.  While some students will be moving to much better schools, many more are moving to schools with similar performance ratings.  There is also a question of cost.  According to the mayor’s most vocal critic Karen Lewis, head of the Chicago Teacher’s Union, it will cost the system $1 billion dollars to close the schools, which is the same amount the system claims is its current deficit.  Lewis and her colleagues contend that this round of school closing is a Trojan horse that the mayor and his allies are using to open even more non-union charter schools.

No one wants children in poor performing schools.  No one wants to waste money heating and maintaining schools that are half empty.  However, it’s hard to trust politicians in any city when we see how charter schools can be new tools for the connected to wash each other’s hands.  Over the past few months, the Sun-Times has published several articles about conflicts of interest at Uno, Chicago’s largest charter school organization.  Uno’s head was a key player in Mayor Emanuel’s campaign.  Will Uno benefit from the school closings?  That would be an interesting question to have answered.

Here’s another question:  Why can’t Chicago fund its schools?  I grew up in Cleveland and saw that great city’s decline first hand.  Over the last two years, I’ve been to Detroit twice and have experienced to a small degree that city’s challenges.  Those cities have an excuse to close schools.  They embody the rust belt and millions of lost jobs that have left northern industrial cities.  Chicago doesn’t have that excuse.

I attended a production at Chicago Shakespeare Theater yesterday.  Before going to the play, a friend and I rode Navy Pier’s Ferris wheel, which offers a magnificent view of the skyline, a panorama of skyscrapers that are filled with business that are making money.  I could also see large condo developments in the south Loop, all of which were built in the last 10-15 years.  How can schools be poor in a city that is so rich?  Why can’t we have schools with small class sizes if our city has so much wealth circulating in it?  We need to ask the mayor and his staff some of these questions.  All children do deserve equal opportunity.  Whacking at schools with an axe doesn’t seem to be the best answer, just the most simple answer.

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