Chris Kennedy, a Democratic candidate for governor, mocks the proposal as part of what he calls Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s “strategic gentrification plan,” which he says is really just a plot to force African-Americans from the city. As outlandish as it sounds, there may be something to it. After all, the schools near Englewood aren’t the only ones facing low attendance, weak test scores and financial strain, yet they are the ones on the chopping block. Then again, other neighborhoods aren’t being rewarded with a fancy multimillion-dollar school.
Perhaps Mayor Emanuel does have Englewood’s best interests at heart and is not just trying to force the poor out. Whatever the motivation, shutting local schools is certain to put another nail in the coffin of neighborhoods like Englewood.
Unfortunately, we’ve been here before. In 2013, the city shut down roughly 50 public schools in what was described as the largest mass closing of public schools in an American city. It was a fiasco. Some neighborhoods lost nearly all of their public schools, and many children were forced to attend schools far from home. Nearly 12,000 students changed schools; 88 percent of them were black, and a disproportionate number were considered “vulnerable.”
But it didn’t work. Even when students transferred to higher-performing schools, they experienced an achievement drop in the first year and minimal gains afterward, the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder, found last year.
Communities suffer when public schools close. Neighborhood schools are essential to creating a shared sense of community. And having a school close to home keeps children safer. Gangs all too often impose boundaries to mark their turf, and the poorer the neighborhood, the more intricate and plentiful are the gang boundaries. So children can be risking their lives by venturing out of their neighborhoods simply to attend school.
In Chicago and around the country, our elected officials show us time and again their contempt for the public school system. Look at Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who is a major proponent of “school choice,” which is code for any kind of alternative to public schools — private-school vouchers, charter schools and religious schools, among others.
Many of these alternatives siphon resources from public schools. And unlike public schools, charter schools are eligible for both public and private funding. They can enroll higher-performing students exclusively and let the public schools deal with special-needs kids, those with disciplinary issues and those who speak English as a second language.
Given this environment, it is no wonder that public schools are often failing. Instead of doing the hard work to make these schools better, which in turn will strengthen communities, local and national officials are abandoning public schools and failing the most vulnerable children.
Since Mr. Emanuel took office in 2011, Englewood’s four neighborhood high schools have seen their resources slashed, with almost $20 million in education funds cut from the budget since 2012. This crisis of under-enrollment is of the city’s own making, a result of chronic disinvestment. Instead of closing the schools, the city should give our schools and our students the support they deserve.
Source: The New York Times