Report: Most Chicago Students Affected by School Closings Upgraded

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A report shows that most of the students who had to move from their permanently closed Chicago Public Schools in 2013 landed in schools the district rated as higher-performing.

One-third of the 11,000 students, however, were placed in schools with CPS’ lowest rating. Of the children from the 50 schools which were closed because of poor-performance, only 20%, however, ended up in schools with the district’s top rating.

The information was published this week by the University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research. The report adds that 25% of the students landed in schools that were not better than the school they had left. The reason for that, according to Lauren Fitzpatrick of the Chicago Sun Times, is that many families chose schools that were near their homes rather than making their choices based on the schools’ performance records.

Marissa de la Torre, co-author of the report, said that there are very few top-tier schools in the largely poor, black neighborhoods where most of the closed schools were located. The findings of the report have implications for other districts that offer families options other than their children’s neighborhood schools. If a student can move from a failing school to one that is truly higher performing, that student will likely benefit academically. However, many families have limited options.

Another architect of the school closings, Todd Babbitz, thinks the findings are positive since so many moved to schools that were higher rated. Of the 3,464 who did not enroll in the school that CPS chose for them, three-quarters moved to a school that was better than the one they left.

Still, all agree, the transition did not go perfectly. Extra academic help and student counseling took place in one of every five schools that absorbed the kids from closed schools, and CPS also added more Safe Passage programs. T

he performance of the displaced students was, as a Chicago Sun-Times analysis calls it, a mixed bag, with some very big gains and some large drops from the year before. De la Torres hopes to study how these students did in their new schools in her next study.

When Ronald Brooks, and his daughter, Star, were faced with the decision of going to the designated school chosen for their family by CPS, or a school of their choice, they took the district’s designated “welcoming school.” The reason, however, was because that was where Star’s friends were going, even though it was a mile further from their home, writes Juan Perez, Jr, reporting for the Chicago Tribune.

“I think the main takeaway for us, or for me at least, is nearly all the displaced students attended schools that were higher performing than the closed ones. But those schools were not substantially better than the ones that closed,” said  de la Torre. “Either we need more schools that are higher-performing in those neighborhoods, or we might need to help families also find transportation and address those things that really make them choose other schools instead of the designated place or places that were higher-ranking.”

These neighborhoods need more high-performing schools, but along with that, say the experts, families need help with transportation and with keeping their children safe. The report was based on interviews with 95 families whose children had attended the closed schools.

In previous CCSR studies, it was shown that students who went to schools that were only somewhat better than the ones they left did not improve much academically, reports Whet Moser for Chicago Magazine. More criteria for choosing new schools involved family concern about special education services, diversity, keeping siblings together, and family connections. After that, says Moser, there were the :

“…thousands of individual, rational decisions that parents had to make within their own, much more complicated metrics.”