Chicago school closings: a natural school choice experiment
It was huge news in the summer of 2013. Chicago Public Schools, or CPS – one of the largest school districts in the country – had just voted to close almost 50 schools in an effort to right-size the district and eliminate wasteful spending. This meant thousands of CPS students would be attending new schools...
It was huge news in the summer of 2013. Chicago Public Schools, or CPS – one of the largest school districts in the country – had just voted to close almost 50 schools in an effort to right-size the district and eliminate wasteful spending.
This meant thousands of CPS students would be attending new schools in the 2013-2014 school year. The CPS board and central administration had already sketched out a plan about how the transition would take place.
The board even held public meetings to help alleviate parent fears and convince them that the plan was in the best interest of their children.
But something unexpected happened. Parents didn’t listen.
Instead, they did what they thought was best for their children – even if it went against the education establishment.
As a result, more than 4,000 students who attended closed schools last year are not attending their designated receiving schools.
Why are some parents deciding that the schools CPS chose for them are not the right fit?
Some are concerned that their children will have to cross gang lines in order to attend school.
Cynthia Patterson is one such parent. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, she voiced concerns about the school her child was expected to attend:
“People want the best for their child, but just because they said the kids would be welcome doesn’t mean you want them to go there.”
She’s not the only parent deciding that CPS’s choice of receiving school doesn’t work for her child.
Students who attended Ross Elementary School now go to 57 different CPS schools. Nearly 93 percent of students that went to Bethune Elementary School have gone to schools other than Gregory Elementary School, their designated receiving school.
Even more embarrassing is the fact that CPS also doesn’t know where nearly 500 elementary school children from closed schools are.
It’s likely that some of these students are now attending the city’s Catholic schools, which saw an increase in enrollment for the first time in years. In an interview on Chicago Tonight, a parent of one of these students said the reason she enrolled her child in Catholic school was that she was sick and tired of all the chaos in the public school system.
CPS hadn’t counted on parents bucking the system. Instead of waiting to see where students would go, CPS spent nearly $200 million on receiving schools before the beginning of the school year – installing air-conditioning and making technological upgrades. Now, facing another nearly $1 billion deficit next year, it lacks the funds to properly update the schools students from closed schools are actually attending.
Parents’ decisions after Chicago’s school closings disproves the theory – espoused by many school choice naysayers – that low-income parents are incapable of deciding what’s best for their children. In fact, it shows that parents are so overwhelmingly concerned about their children’s well-being that they are willing to stand up to the government and tell it “no.”
CPS parents are ready for real school choice. Now, it’s up to the city and legislators to make it happen.