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The race for City Hall

Jobs and schools promise to be top issues in next year’s city elections. The mayor’s education agenda faces its toughest test in the African-American communities that gave him strong support in 2011.

Map: 40 percent of closed schools now privately run

Even though CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has pledged that no charter schools will go into school buildings vacated this year, the concern over the possibility has been raised so much in some quarters that it has risen to the level of a conspiracy theory.

The basis for this: It has happened in the past, even as recently as this school year, when the shuttered Lathrop Elementary reopened as KIPP Ascend Primary. Of the 75 schools that have been closed, consolidated or phased out over the past 12 years, 40 percent (30 schools) are run by private operators under CPS contract, 40 percent by the district and 15 are either vacant, have been demolished, now house private schools or are used as district administrative offices.

The fate of all the schools that have been subject to some action, whether closure or turnaround, gives a glimpse into what can be expected this year as CPS embarks on what is expected to be the largest number of closures ever. Byrd-Bennett has said she has no exact number in mind, but reports have indicated officials are considering closing as many as 100 schools considered under-utilized.
An analysis of school closings and other actions found that:

  • Fifteen percent of the replacement schools (those located in buildings where either closure or turnaround has occurred) were rated “Level 1” by CPS, the highest performance level, according to the most recent data. Thirty-two percent were rated “Level 3,” the lowest rating CPS gives, and 20 percent did not have enough data. When looking only at closed schools turned into new schools, 45 percent were level 3.
  • Closings and turnarounds have disproportionately affected African American schools on the West and South Sides. Humboldt Park and the Near West Side had the most, followed by Grand Boulevard. South Chicago had the third most school closings.
  • Closings are clustered around former Chicago Housing Authority developments.
  • Almost all of the schools that closed were neighborhood schools with attendance boundaries. Now, half of the replacement schools admit students by either lottery or test scores.

CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll has said the point of this round of school closings is to shrink the district’s “footprint.” However, district officials say they will continue the expansion of charter schools.

This year, new charter schools are being put in neighborhoods that have overcrowded schools and those in need of “quality” schools--which could be the same neighborhoods where schools are closed.

CPS officials also have yet to announce which schools, if any, will be turned around this year, a process in which most or all of an entire staff is replaced. In the past, 65 percent of turnaroundshave been managed by the not-for-profit Academy for Urban School Leadership.

Vacated buildings were taken over mostly by charter schools as part of a strategy launched under former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

On April 10, 2002, then CPS Chief Executive Officer Arne Duncan announced CPS would permanently close three schools it said were chronically low-performing and not improving—Williams, Dodge and Terrell. The district vowed to open completely new schools at Williams and Dodge, while Terrell would remain closed due to declining enrollment.

“We don’t believe these schools as they currently exist will ever measure up,” Duncan said at the time. “There are better education alternatives within walking distance.”

It was Chicago’s introduction to “renaissance” schools, which became a full-fledged strategy under Daley’s Renaissance 2010 plan to close 100 low-performing schools and open new ones, mostly charters. The hope was that a new school or an outside entity other than the school district could create higher-performing schools from the ashes of those shuttered.

Since then, CPS has closed or completely re-staffed more than 100 schools. The announcement of “school actions”—closings, consolidations, turnarounds—has occurred annually since 2002, and has provoked anguished criticism that has still not dissipated.
Building on a map created by Catalyst Chicago and WBEZ last year, WBEZ plotted annual school closings and turnarounds since Williams, Terrell and Dodge.

The chart and map show where schools have been closed or turned around, what’s become of the old buildings and how well the new schools in those buildings are performing.

—Jane Verwys created the graphics for this article. Reporting was a joint effort of WBEZ and Catalyst Chicago.



Daniel Bassill, D.H.L. wrote 1 year 51 weeks ago

Great Use of Maps

WBEZ has been doing some really innovative work with mapping and I hope other media point their readers to these maps. I also encourage viewers to look at the map gallery and map stories at and begin to use maps as part of an on-going effort to bring a wide range of needed resources to families, youth, and schools in all high poverty neighborhoods of Chicago and its suburbs so all youth have a greater chance to move successfully through school and into adult jobs and careers.

Clara Fitzpatrick wrote 1 year 51 weeks ago

What is the objective for school closings

To save money? Closing schools will minimally cut into the huge budget deficit. To provide quality education (read increase test scores)? There are plenty of Level 3 schools, not primarily minority, that are not being reccommended for closing.To replace with corporate school that don't perform any better? Yes, that's it!!!!

Don wrote 1 year 51 weeks ago

Schools are not buildings

The headline is nonsensical. The evil private entities do not run the school that had previously occupied the structure.

George N. Schmidt wrote 1 year 49 weeks ago

Fine reporting... But where is Catalyst on this story?

I agree that WBEZ is finally catching up to the scam of closing schools, then flipping them into privatized charter operators. One result, not completely reported yet, is that CPS is losing millions of dollars per year by doing the "flips." Here is how it works: CPS rehabs a school (e.g., Austin or Calumet high school), then slates it for closing based on some pretext or another. The fixed up building then gets leased to the charter operator for $1 per year...


CPS continues to provide staff for building upkeep and security, plus other benefits that are buried deep in the CPS budget.

I organized the speakers against the "phase out" of Austin and Calumet in June 2004, when the hearings were held. At the time, we criticized the pretext (CPS needed to clear out the buildings because of gang problems) and predicted the result (the buildings would be turned over to private charter operators once they were emptied out as real public schools).

In both case, that's what happened.

Calumet is now "Perspectives."

Austin has been housing a number of smaller schoolsy thingies, most of which have been charters.

In both cases, the buildings got tens of millions of dollars in rehab during the "phase out" prior to the "flip." I photographed both and reported both at the time.

The Austin charter that was most corrupt was that "entrepreneurial" thingy run by American Quality Schools, brought in by the clout of former State Schools Supt. Michael Bakalis. A few years after they began their Austin scam, AQS took the microphone at a Board of Education meeting and declared, with straight faces, that their problems (including some of their students running wild in the nearly empty halls of the Austin building) were because the elementary schools of Austin were "failing"...

The prescription?

AQL should get control over some elementary feeder schools!

All during these corrupt scenarios, Arne Duncan (and Michael Scott for some of the time) placidly sat there, or aggressively defended the corrupt practices. Duncan promised over and over and over to do studies to see how the kids who had been dumped out were doing, but of course that was just another one of those Duncanian lies that we all got used to.

At least Duncan (and Scott, along with his two successors under Daley) held press conferences and answered questions (or provided reporters with that famous Arne brush off "I'll get back to you on that..."). Since Rahm took over, CPS has abolished press conferences in favor of Hollywood scripts and canned comments from "spokespeople."

A complete and independent study of Chicago charters would show that the vast majority (not all, just the majority) have been expensive hypocritical failures. That Bakalis "entrepreneur" thingy wasn't even the worst, just one of the most creatively melodramatic. For worst a reporter would have to spend some time really going through everything about the Aspira charters (followed by KIPP, Noble, and UNO), but that would be only the beginning of a long slog in investigative journalism.

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