To the Editor:
We’re not surprised that findings from a recently released study by the University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research indicate that while school closings displace students, they bring little positive effect on academic achievement (“Closing Schools in Chicago Found to Yield Few Gains,” Nov. 4, 2009). But the study does not mean, as some insist, that the reform strategies enacted by the Chicago public schools are not working.
It’s important to emphasize what the study itself clearly points out, that closings are not the strategy now being used to transform Chicago’s worst-performing schools. The district moved in 2006 to a focus on turnarounds rather than school closings. Since then, Chicago has brought in the group I head, the Academy for Urban School Leadership, to turn around eight schools where test scores, attendance, discipline issues, and graduation rates indicated that students were not getting the education they needed.
The top-to-bottom-transformation approach that the academy employs is like hitting a reset button for these schools. More important, there is no disruption to students, who return in the fall to their neighborhood school, transformed with renovated facilities, a new principal, new teachers, a new curriculum, and new expectations for their success.
We not only have the data to show that this method is successful, but also the support of the students, parents, and teachers who have participated in the process. Many of the most vocal of these supporters are parents and community members who were once among our loudest critics.
We advocate school turnaround because we see it work for students at some of our city’s most troubled schools.
Academy for Urban School Leadership
A version of this article appeared in the November 11, 2009 edition of Education Week as Chicago School Closings Give Way to Turnarounds