THE BLOG

The Open Seats of Chicago Public Schools

10/26/2012 06:52 pm ET | Updated Dec 26, 2012
  • Dave Stieber Father, Husband, Chicago Public Schools Social Studies Teacher, Masters in Urban Education Policy Studies

Since the teachers strike ended it is obvious that the Chicago Public Schools appointed Board of Education and Mayor Emmanuel are gearing up to close a large number of public schools. Their rhetoric is that public schools have large numbers of under-utilized buildings, meaning that there are not enough students for all the available seats in public schools across the city.

The claim by the mayor and Board of Education is there are 600,000 seats and only 400,000 students. On December 1st CPS is legally required to announce any plans for closing schools. When CPS announces the expected school closing list a large number of schools will be closed (expect 80-120 schools) students will have new teachers, principals, and building staff. The community will lose institutions that are central parts of the neighborhood. CPS has been closing schools for the past 10 years and the data shows no real improvement is made by closing schools. In fact the research shows that when a school is closed it further destabilizes a community. CPS' primary justification for closing schools is based on standardized test scores (even though again research shows that test scores are not an accurate measure of intelligence).

In fact there is already an official hit list of 80 schools that UNO charter school leader Juan Rangel (who also served on Mayor Emanuel's education team) wants to close. Rangel wants these 80 public schools to be turned over into privately run charter schools. Turning public schools into charter schools would benefit Mr. Rangel as well as the other charter school network heads, because they could get more public and private funds, which increases their already large salaries.

So even though CPS claims there are 200,000 "empty seats" CPS and the mayor now want to reopen many of the closed public schools as new charter schools. If there really was 200,000 empty seats wouldn't the logic be that we do not need to open any more schools? Yet our mayor in all his genius wants to open even more charter schools even though research shows charters do NOT perform better than public schools.

One other important point that the mayor and Board of Education are failing to mention in this case is the projected $1 billion CPS budget deficit. The mayor was so quick to mention the budget deficit during the teachers strike, yet now when he wants to open possibly 100 charter schools the budget deficit is not mentioned.

On top of that the charter schools in CPS actually have open seats in their own buildings. Charter schools because they get public and private money are able to spend money on advertising and PR campaigns. So many of us are familiar with the rhetoric that charter schools have a lottery system and very long wait lists to get into them... well this is not actually true. The proof? The day before the CPS teachers strike happened the various charter school leaders got together and held a press conference where they announced their were open seats in their schools (remember it was about a month into their school calendar) in fact "one third of the city's charter schools had open seats."

So lets be clear one month into school one third of all charter schools had open seats. Yet CPS wants to close under utilized public schools and open the exact same buildings with more under utilized not as effective charter schools?

As a teacher, a parent, and a citizen of Chicago this "plan" does not make sense.

Charters perform no better than public schools, one third of all charter schools are under enrolled, there is a projected budget deficit... so what is really going on? What is behind the mayor's plan to close public schools? Is he doing it for the kids like he claims? The overwhelming evidence says no. Demand truth from the mayor, Demand an elected school board, Demand that your alderman ask for transparency around the issue of school closings.

There is money in this city. The budget is a political document not a financial one. The budget is all about priorities and it is time we make the mayor and the appointed Board of Education understand ours, because as a teachers and parents our priorities are about the kids.

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