Education International
Education International

US: 50 schools to be shut down - largest public school closure in history

published 30 May 2013 updated 3 June 2013

Last week, Chicago announced the closure of 50 public schools, the majority of them on the South and West sides of the city, in the poorer neighbourhoods. The closures represent about eight per cent of the 681 public schools in Chicago, the third-largest school district in the country.

More than 400,000 students are enrolled in these public schools, a large majority African-American or Hispanic and from low-income families. In fact, around 100 schools have closed since 2001 in Chicago where 88 per cent of the students affected were African-American, according to the New York Times.

Deficit in funds Barbara Byrd-Bennett, chief executive of the Chicago Public Schools System (CPS), has claimed the district needs to reduce a US$1 billion deficit. However, at the same time, CPS officials have admitted that closing 54 schools will not reduce this year’s budget deficit, since all cost savings, plus additional financing of US$233 million, will be put into other schools this year.

Byrd-Bennett has also argued that closing schools is about moving children ‘trapped’ in low-performing schools to a better place. Nevertheless, The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU)has warned, moving schools does not guarantee moving up to a ‘better’ school. Recent studies have shown that only a very small minority of students affected by school closures in Chicago are placed into substantially better school environments.

Unions condemn closures Both EI’s affiliates in the US, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA), have strongly condemned this decision. CTUhas warned that this move will ultimately harm the poorest of the city’s children, by forcing them to commute farther away from their homes and learn in overcrowded classrooms.

The issue of safetyCTU has warned, some children will be sent from a school in one gang’s turf to a new school in rival gang territory. They will have to leave their neighbourhoods using what the CPS   calls safe passage routes.

These special routes have been created by the city of Chicago so children can more safely navigate through gang territory to get to their new schools.

“A decision was made to send children through areas so dangerous they have to be protected by a safe passage route,” stated NEA President Dennis van Roekel. “The plan is to staff these routes with on-duty firefighters who are not trained for this type of security, and who will still be expected to answer fire calls while guarding the route.”

AFT President Randy Weingarten said: "Apart from what it means for the continuity and stability of children’s schooling, the evidence makes clear these mass closings will destabilise neighbourhoods, and it has raised serious safety concerns for children in a city where there is already too much violence.

“Moreover, this school closure strategy is not what the people of Chicago want. According to a recent Chicago Tribune poll, just 19 per cent of Chicagoans sided with this strategy.”

A push for chartersSome teachers and community members consider this move could pave the way to push for more charter schools, some of which have been opened in the same neighbourhoods in which the city is expected to shut public schools. Indeed, last year, Chicago education representatives announced plans to open at least 17 more new charter schools in the district by next autumn.

EI: Educational outcomes not dependant on family background EI stands in solidarity with CTU members, parents, students and the greater Chicago community, in their defence of Chicago’s public schools to guarantee equal educational opportunities to all children.

EI believes educational outcomes should not depend on family background, wealth and ability to pay. Each person should be given the same chance of best developing their particular talents - according to both their abilities and needs – and to fully contribute to the sustainable and democratic development of society.