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Despite promise, not all schools on CPS closing list are sending kids to schools with better scores

CPS CEO BarbarByrd-Bennett Mayor Rahm Emanuel press conference. On Saturday Emanuel will hold press conference during which he will likely

CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Mayor Rahm Emanuel at a press conference. On Saturday, Emanuel will hold a press conference during which he will likely address the announced list of CPS school closings for the first time since the list was made public on

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Updated: April 25, 2013 7:05AM



Schools would be closed only if the children can be sent to better schools.

That was the promise of Chicago Public Schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett before CPS announced the largest school shakeup in the nation: the closing of 54 public elementary schools.

And students at nearly two-thirds of those schools — 33 — will in fact be sent to academically stronger places, according to a Sun-Times analysis.

But children from another third are going to schools with CPS academic rankings similar to the schools they are leaving. And kids from at least eight of those schools are landing at facilities with lower state standardized test scores.

“When you’re merging two schools together, and they are both low performance, you’re setting up the system to fail,” said Darlene O’Banner, a grandmother of four at Goodlow Elementary Magnet school, 2040 W. 62nd St.

Goodlow and Earle Elementary School, the new home to Goodlow kids, are both in CPS’ lowest academic category. And as O’Banner knows from looking at ISAT scores, Goodlow had slightly higher scores in 2012 than Earle. “Why is this school taking over our school?” she asked.

Goodlow is one of 17 schools on the closing list sending its kids to schools considered to perform on the same level as the schools they’re leaving, including 13 remaining at what CPS deems its lowest performing schools, according to a Sun-Times analysis of data available from the Illinois State Board of Education for 51 of the 54 closing schools.

Eight of the receiving schools have lower 2012 ISAT scores than the closing school from which they are to receive children.

Children from nine schools will be sent to schools CPS ranks two levels higher. Kids from some 24 more will go to a school one level higher. Thirteen schools will move kids to Level 1 or the highest ranking schools. Four of them move from Level 2, the other nine move from what CPS calls Level 3 or “low academic” schools. Twenty more Level 3 schools will send children to Level 2 schools.

School officials say the way they define performance is what state law requires and that, based on how the district measures a school’s performance, the displaced students will indeed be going to better-performing schools.

Though ISAT exams are a state standard, their scores aren’t enough to fully assess a school’s performance, according to Adam Anderson, CPS’ officer of portfolio, planning and strategy. CPS performance levels also consider a school’s attendance, the “value added” factor of test scores and how the school is trending on tests, which is why the district used performance points to determine “better performing” instead of straight test scores, according to Anderson.

So while Altgeld Elementary’s ISAT scores are higher than Wentworth’s, he said, they’ve been dropping, while Wentworth’s have risen.

“There’s something happening in the full performance story that’s not captured in just a snapshot in time proficiency,” he said.

CPS added specialized STEM — or science, technology, engineering and math — and International Baccalaureate programs to 19 of the receiving schools, including six in Level 3 receiving schools, spreading them out geographically to help kids in elementary schools prepare for the same program in their neighborhood high school. Not all the lowest-performing schools receiving kids will add a program.

“Based on the investments in programs or transition supports, we believe all the students in that welcoming school will be set up to be well-served once they’re all in their new school,” Anderson said.

Stephanie Farmer, a sociology professor, studied past school closings in Chicago and found that most students from 44 schools closed between 2000 and 2010 didn’t end up in a stronger academic setting. She cited another school-closing study done by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research showing that students displaced from poor-performing schools must be moved to the strongest schools to make any real gains.

A neighborhood’s socioeconomic status matters most, said Farmer, part of the collaborative Chicagoland Researchers and Advocates for Transformative Education, “so if you transfer a student from a low-income highly segregated neighborhood school to another low-income highly segregated neighborhood school, [closing] is not the magic bullet that’s going to produce instant increases in academic performance.

“I don’t know if the chaos that’s going to be wreaked due to 54 closures when students aren’t going to be going to academically better schools is worth it,” she said.

The Chicago Teachers Union has fought the closings, saying the district hasn’t invested in the schools now targeted, CTU president Karen Lewis said.

CPS started this year saying it would close schools to save money, then to merge resources from buildings it called “half empty,” and then to put children in better places.

“Performance has creeped back in the conversation,” Lewis said. “Every time you look up, they’ve changed the bar on what this is going to be about.”

Louella Williams doesn’t want her grandson sent to Jenner Elementary Academy of the Arts if his Manierre Elementary, 1420 N. Hudson, closes. Aside from being on the wrong side of Division Street, Jenner’s also on probation. And Jenner’s ISAT scores are a shade worse than Manierre’s.

“You tell me you’re doing this for the betterment of my grandchild’s education?” she said. “There’s no way you can tell me that when both schools are running neck and neck.”

Outside King Elementary School, 740 S. Campbell, teachers and parents went door-to-door to galvanize the North Lawndale community against the closing.

Lakesha Green, 34, a mother with a fifth-grader and second-grader at the school, said she and other parents are most worried about their children’s safety if transferred to nearby Jensen School, despite it being a Level 1 school, and King a Level 3.

“I can’t even tell you how this will affect me and my boys,” she said. “I just want them to be safe, and this school is right across the street. There’s chaos and police on the streets every night, coming from the gangs over near Jensen. I understand Jensen may have higher scores, but at King the scores are steadily improving. And you know what? I’ll take that, and the love and safety my kids find here. to Jensen’s scores any day.”

Contributing: Becky Schlikerman, Maudlyne Ihejirika



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