School Closings Loom in Chicago, DC

Published December 5, 2012

Chicago and Washington DC officials are attempting to prepare parents and teachers for school closings. Both have lost thousands of students in the past decade, a national trend among urban districts: Chicago is down about 6 percent and DC 35 percent.

Keeping extra doors open despite astonishing budget deficits satisfies one group, however:  “If you close our schools, there will be no peace in the city,” promised Chicago Teachers Union vice president Jesse Sharkey.

Closures will also be difficult in DC. After she closed 23 mostly low-performing schools, voters ousted former Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s boss for a union-backed mayor.

New Chancellor Kaya Henderson says DC wastes money on half-empty schools. In a hearing, however, city council members objected to closing schools in their wards but agreed closure savings should go toward improving academics.

Both cities desperately need that. Half of Chicago students and 40 percent of DC students drop out. Four in five fourth graders in both districts can barely read.

DC and Chicago students have flocked to charter schools, independently run public schools free to pursue different educational philosophies or course offerings. Charters often boast better academics. But they can’t help fill empty schools, since school districts rarely let charters use their buildings.

Image by somethingstartedcrazy.