Three troubled elementary schools in Chicago will be closed this coming fall, the city’s school board has announced. The step is the most dramatic action that district officials have taken against schools they see as failing since Mayor Richard M. Daley was given control of the city’s schools in 1995.
Two of the schools are expected to reopen in the fall of 2003, after extensive changes have been made, and the third will remain closed indefinitely because of declining enrollment.
“To have meaningful change, we must be honest with ourselves and each other, and acknowledge that we have failed to provide our children at these schools with the quality of education they need,” said Arne Duncan, the chief executive officer of the 435,000-student Chicago public schools.
The district used six criteria in choosing which schools to close. Those included standardized-test scores, annual progress that was below the district’s average, and their proximity to better schools. The schools—Mary C. Terrell, Mary Mapes Dodge, and Daniel Hale Williams—are all located in poor neighborhoods on the city’s South Side.
During the next year, district officials will be meeting with both community members and national education experts to discuss how the schools should be revamped. Some of the options they will consider include year-round school, longer school days, and master teachers, Mr. Duncan said.
New Schools, Old Rift
The step prompted praise from U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, but drew fire from Deborah Lynch, the president of the 36,000-member Chicago Teachers Union.
The 1,322 children currently attending the closing schools will be enrolled in nearby schools next fall. But many will have to walk through territory controlled by unfriendly street gangs to get to their new schools, Ms. Lynch said. “We’re very concerned about the accommodations for these kids,” she said.
In addition, Ms. Lynch said that during a January meeting with Mr. Duncan, she asked him directly if any schools would be closed this year. She said he assured her that he had no plans to close any of the district’s roughly 600 schools.
That assurance “led us to believe that we had been broadsided” when the announcement was made on April 10, Ms. Lynch said. The union has offered to take over the failing schools, but district officials have not responded to that offer.
The rift between the district and the teachers’ union comes just months before contract negotiations are scheduled to begin this summer. “This action,” Ms. Lynch said, “has certainly damaged any trust that had been developing.”
A version of this article appeared in the April 24, 2002 edition of Education Week as Chicago to Close Three Failing Elementary Schools