The Closing of Chicago Public Schools

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Latino and African American and some
white students, parents, and teachers,
Andersen elementary school parents asked,
“What does phasing out feel like? What
research has been done on the effects on
children and the community? Eradication!”
On Feb. 27, the Chicago Board of Education
voted to phase out, close, or consolidate
10 schools and turn over 7 others to a
non-profit “turn-around specialist.” All,
except one, are in working class and lowincome
African American and Latino communities.
This is the latest round of Chicago’s
Renaissance 2010 plan to close neighborhood
schools and reopen them mostly
as privately run charter or selective enrollment
Since 2004, Chicago Public Schools
(CPS) has closed 56 schools. Ren2010
schools are not required to have elected
Local School Councils and charter schools
are non-union. As in past years, the Board
ignored the pleas, protests, demonstrations,
and data of students, community
members, teachers, unions, and school
reform organizations fighting for their
schools and the resources and support they
need to improve them.
The Board’s rationale is the schools are
plagued by persistent ‘failure.’ But school
staff and parents point to CPS’s legacy of
failure to provide necessary resources and
support, and failure to build on the
strengths of schools in African American
and Latino communities. This year the
rationale was under-enrollment.An example
is Andersen with a capacity of 1200
students which CPS said was 47% utilized.
But teachers and parents who knew how
space was actually used knew differently.
CPS didn’t account for Andersen’s
extensive special education program,
which required very small classes. Another
case was Abbott elementary school which
CPS claimed was under-utilized, but this
didn’t include a charter school and preschool
in the building. In fact the building
was fully utilized. On the other hand, 24 of
CPS’s 108 Autonomous Management Performance
Schools (AMPs), considered
some of the ‘best’ schools, are underenrolled—
some significantly more than
schools that were closed. Yet, no AMPs
schools were closed.
Those fighting Ren2010 say the real agenda
is to privatize public education, weaken
unions, eliminate local school councils,
and gentrify and displace communities of
color. A parent put it succinctly: “We’re
being pushed out of the city under the
guise of school reform.”
A study by UIC’s Data and Democracy
project ( or shows
closed schools are clustered in areas experiencing
high rates of gentrification. In 2006,
CPS closed Collins High School and
“rebirthed” it under Ren2010. Collins is on
beautiful Douglas Park in an African American
community which has been disinvested
in for decades. Now, $450,000 condos
are springing up around the corner. At the
time CPS announced plans to close Collins,
developers were planning to build 245
homes priced between $250,000 and
$600,000 about a mile from Collins.
Andersen, which is 73% Latino, 18%
African American, and 94% low-income,
is located in a prime gentrified neighborhood
with an active real estate market in
$1 million-plus homes. The board voted
to phase out Andersen and replace it with
a clone of LaSalle Language Academy, a
highly prized selective magnet school.
Andersen students, many of whom speak
Spanish as a first language and have been
reassigned to other schools, would have
to join the citywide competition for
admission to a school that emphasizes
world languages.
Schools are crucial community institutions.
Closing them destabilizes a community,
encouraging families to move. Abbott
is the only school that serves Wentworth
Gardens a public housing community
where residents fought for the right to
return after it is renovated. Abbott’s
African-American students were to be
bused nearly two miles to a neighborhood
with a history of racist violence. Closing
Abbott would undermine a community in
an area next to gentrification.
These decisions are made without regard
for the knowledge and wishes of communities.
Plans to close schools were announced a
month before the Board’s vote. Most public
hearings were held downtown at Board
headquarters, away from the community.
People had two minutes to testify and could
not ask school officials questions, organize
the order of their presentations, or use
power point. Anderson organized five bus
loads of children, parents, and teachers to
testify for over three hours unanimously in
favor of keeping their school which had won
awards for achievement. CPS voted to close
it anyway. Only Abbott, who also had a wellorganized
campaign, was able to prevail.
This is way more than a school plan.
Ren2010 was proposed by the Commercial
Club of Chicago—the most powerful corporate,
financial, and political elites in the
city, whichset up a public-private partnership,
Renaissance School Fund, to oversee
it. Ren2010 is linked to the agenda of
Mayor Daley and the Commercial Club to
make Chicago a first-tier global city in
which financial and corporate interests,
real estate development, and high paid
knowledge workers are primary, labor
rights and the voices of people of color are
squashed and working class people of
color are policed and displaced to the margins
of the city. The struggle over schools
is fundamentally about the right to live in
the city.

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