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Went to a forum on the school closings that are projected in Chicago. The first number the Board of Ed rolled out was 129 schools on the list; the current number is around 80.  We're supposed to feel good about that. The reasons why we need school closings shift from year to year: some years it's about "underperforming" schools; this year, the code word is "underutilized."

It’s all lies. That’s the take-away. Our public officials are lying to us, and no one is calling them on it.

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Well, some folks are trying to call them on it. Raise Your Hand is doing its best to figure out what is real and what is falsehood.  The CTU is trying to call them on it too … but the press gets into a “he said, she said” on that one.

Lies.  Lies that schools are underutilized.  You want to know if a school is underutilized? Go visit it. Look at the class rooms, talk to the teachers, talk to the staff, see what’s going on. Has anyone on the Board of Education actually visited any of the schools on the closings list? No. They’ve run the numbers to say what they want them to say, and so what if the numbers lie.

And the numbers lie. The first number is the number that they’ve lost over 146,000 students in the last 10 years, given the Census number. That Census number counts everyone between the age of 0 to 19. Think about that. It includes children who are too young to attend school. It includes students who were never in public schools, who went to private and parochial schools.  Raise Your Hand ran the actual numbers, based on students who were actually in the Chicago Public Schools: the number actually lost is closer to 31,500. That’s a big exaggeration of lost enrollment.

The numbers used by CPS to determine “underutilization”  assume a class size of 36 students per class.  Let that sink in a moment. 36 students per class is assumed to be the optimal use of space. The optimal class size for elementary through high school.  
I’ve always thought that the optimal size for a classroom was about 20-25 students per teacher.  At most. The smaller the class size, the more time the teacher gets to spend with the kids individually, the better the quality of the education.  Thirty kids is pushing it.

Then you have the special ed kids. The kids in special ed are mandated to have class sizes no more than fifteen per class, and ten is really more optimal. So the higher a percentage of special education classes in a school, the more it seems “underutilized.” Because the Board of Education’s numbers don’t take into consideration which classes are special ed: it lumps them all together.

So the Board of Education has now determined that what’s best for our kids is thirty-six kids crammed into a classroom? Even if they are special needs kids?  They’re actually lobbying the State of Illinois to allow them to increase class sizes to forty students per class.  That should make for some quality education time.

Think about the schools they’re talking about closing. The majority of them are in poor neighborhoods, because poor neighborhoods have schools that are labeled “failures.”  Actually, interestingly enough, this year the Board of Education argument isn’t about “failing schools,” it’s about under-utilization. Funny how that goes … consistency much?

At any rate, here are schools in neighborhoods that have high crime rates, have low-socio-economic status, and are mostly African-American and Latino. Often these kids are traumatized before they ever get to school: can you imagine trying to teach a class full of kids who have all seen violence? Violent death? Who have had parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, die violently? Who may have witnessed death? What does that do to your class dynamic, if the kids in your classrom are mostly terrified all the time? Does making the class size larger really help? Give you any room to cope with these traumas on an individual basis? Treat your kids like human beings?  Like individuals who deserve respect?

Notice, too, that while the Board talks about closing all these “underutilized” schools to save money, to use our resources more wisely, more profitably … it is also talking about increasing the number of charter schools. So our neighborhood schools are underutilized and need to be closed, but at the same time we need to spend taxpayer money to build more charter schools?

And that brings us to the money.  We’re told there’s a budget shortfall. We never actually see the budget.  They say they’re cutting costs at the administrative levels, but as they cut they also hire.  Departments are shifted around. Finding budget detail for the Board of Education itself is somewhat difficult.  The Board of Education frequently claims a projected budget shortfall, only to find that the actual budget ends in a surplus.  And while they claim to have a budget shortfall, instead of using that money to save and improve neighborhood schools, they’ve allocated $80 million dollars to charter schools.

So on the one hand, they have declining enrollment and underutilized schools so clearly neighborhood schools need to be closed to maximize efficiently. On the other hand, they need to fund the building and development of as many as 80 new charter schools because we have a demand for their services.  So which is it: are the schools we have underutilized or we do need more schools for our children’s educaiton?

Money is the key. What is happening when we build charter schools? We’re shifting public dollars into private hands, with much less oversight and much less control. We shift money to charter school companies that are designed to make a profit. And if a profit is being made, that profit is money that is not going into the direct education of students. It’s public money that is going into someone’s pocket.  

That is offensive.

Cross-posted at Competitive Malaise

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Originally posted to Hope Despite All on Tue Mar 19, 2013 at 06:50 PM PDT.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions and American Legislative Transparency Project.

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