From guest blogger Alyssa Morones
This infographic, released this week by the Opportunity to Learn Campaign, lists the demographics of the schools being closed in New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago, contrasted with the demographics of each school district as a whole. It suggests, as advocates have argued, that the closures in these cities may disproportionately affect African-American and low-income students.
For their part, school officials in Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia said decisions about which low-performing or underenrolled schools to shutter was neither haphazard nor intentionally aimed at minorities or other disadvantaged student groups.
Chicago Public Schools, for example, used a two-step process. After gathering feedback from 20,000 community members over the course of 30 public meetings, the district narrowed down the schools under consideration to eliminate all high schools, except in cases where the school building posed a safety threat or where it was too small to provide an adequate learning environment. They also had a list of criteria that could get a school removed from the list of buildings under consideration for closing.
After this, the district went on to eliminate from the list any schools that had undergone a turnaround in the past year or that were in buildings that were either constructed or added to in the last 10 years. It also eliminated any schools that, if closed, would send students to a school over a mile away.
New York’s public schools didn’t use a specific data point in determining which schools it would close. Rather, it used a variety of qualitative factors and listened to feedback from school communities.
New York City Department of Education spokesman, Devon Puglia, said “Proposing to phase out a school is one of the toughest decisions we make, but when we know a school is not serving students well, we have to take action.”
Philadelphia, likewise, hosted a series of parent and community meetings between December and January. The superintendent evaluated feedback from these meetings before releasing the list of schools under consideration for closing.
The infographic visually reflects the argument that groups in cities across the nation have been making against school closings.
Protests in Chicago have been ongoing since the district announced its list of over 50 schools set to close. In Philadelphia, 19 opponents to the district’s closure plan were arrested during a day of demonstrations.
The District of Columbia public school system, which is not represented in this infographic, also plans to close 15 schools next year. A local advocacy group, Empower D.C, helped file a lawsuit against the city in an attempt to halt the closures, arguing that they violate civil rights laws because they disproportionately affect poor, African-American, and disabled children.
City attorneys disputed this argument, saying that having children change schools is not a civil rights violation and that the decisions were based on sound research.
A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.