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Today’s number: 63 percent

Monday, Apr 11, 2016 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Kate Grossman writing in the Atlantic

Austin High School on Chicago’s struggling West Side is a proud school with a bad reputation and too few students. It likely has just one more shot at survival.

Austin has hollowed out in recent years, as have dozens of similar schools across Chicago’s poor and mostly Latino and black neighborhoods. With 391 students, including just 57 freshmen across three academies in a building meant for nearly 1,700, Austin is one of 35 Chicago public high schools that are well under half full. Ten schools aren’t even a quarter full.

These schools face a set of woes that make a turnaround all but impossible. A citywide school-choice system leaves these mostly open-enrollment schools with some of Chicago’s most challenging and low-achieving students. Deeply strained budgets fueled by declining enrollment hurt staffing levels, teacher retention, and programming. Mix in a stubborn reputation for violence at many schools—unwarranted in the case of Austin and some others—and these schools are in a death spiral.

In a high-school universe defined by choice, these schools and students are the clear losers. Chicago’s neediest students are clustered at the bottom of the pecking order of the district, in the most under-resourced and embattled schools.

Chicago has a poor track record of delivering for its weakest students but this latest chapter, arguably an inevitable and predictable consequence of school choice, may be a new low. Students who need the healthiest and most stable schools are segregated in the most unstable institutions, often with the most troubled classmates. Victims of a set of powerful and destructive forces that have undermined their schools and neighborhoods, these students and their schools face an increasingly bleak and uncertain future.

* The kicker

Meanwhile, the city since 2000 has opened dozens of schools to offer more choice and retain the middle class. Most are public charter schools that admit by lottery but a bevy of test-based schools and programs also launched. Chicago now has 101,000 students in 140 high schools, excluding alternative schools. In 2000, CPS had 93,000 students in 86 high schools. That’s a 63 percent increase in schools against an 8 percent increase in students. For neighborhoods like Austin that have lost population, this seats-students mismatch is particularly devastating.

Neighborhood schools weren’t working in many neighborhoods at the bottom of the economic ladder. So, Chicago embraced public school choice. But that isn’t working either for kids on the lowest economic rungs. Charters can kick kids out for low performance, behavioral problems, etc. and they do that a lot.

I happen to think charters can be a great thing. But, man, the costs sure are high to run all those new schools. And innovators like Kansas City are also having some very real problems.

All I do know for sure is that slogans on both sides don’t help matters much. So, try to avoid them in comments. Thanks.


  1. - wordslinger - Monday, Apr 11, 16 @ 11:48 am:

    –Chicago’s neediest students are clustered at the bottom of the pecking order of the district, in the most under-resourced and embattled schools.–

    Seems kind of backwards, doesn’t it?

    What is the Daley/Emanuel school regimes expectations for the future for those neediest students who are getting the short end of the stick?

    Productive, contributing members of society?

    –Charters can kick kids out for low performance, behavioral problems, etc. and they do that a lot.–

    And they make a lot of money off taxpayers without doing the heavy lifting.

  2. - Downstate - Monday, Apr 11, 16 @ 11:52 am:

    School choice is not about choosing a better school to send your child to. It’s about sending your child to a school with parents that have the same priorities.

  3. - West Sider - Monday, Apr 11, 16 @ 12:06 pm:

    I’ve been moved from charter supporter/parent, to agnostic, to opponent. Conceptually a good thing- in practice a tool of class/race/culture war in Chicago. Bonds were sold and contractors got paid- but the West Side is swimming in fine buildings which are otherwise useless.

  4. - Common Sense - Monday, Apr 11, 16 @ 12:11 pm:

    It makes as much sense to judge teachers and schools on student performance as it does to grade police based on crime stats. The reality is that at-risk students require significant more resources than students coming from a supported background. Approximately 90% of CPS students are considered low income. And CPS classroom average many more students than the rest of Illinois with much less support (one example would be social workers who divide their time among many schools). Charter schools need to be held to the same standards as neighborhood schools with CPS investigating any school that has an unusual transfer out rate.

  5. - Curious - Monday, Apr 11, 16 @ 12:12 pm:

    This article is a major downer, but worth the read. Neighborhood schools don’t often work, Charters don’t often work - there are exceptions, but far too few. And I don’t think one can say with a straight face that if only CPS had the money everything would be fixed (it might help a bit, but it ain’t coming any time soon). It’s just a mess.

  6. - DuPage Saint - Monday, Apr 11, 16 @ 12:20 pm:

    Charter schools in Chicago will be the biggest scandal in the history of Chicago and I know that is saying ALOT. Follow the money and the kids be damned.

  7. - Ghost - Monday, Apr 11, 16 @ 12:20 pm:

    the charter school system may actually create an opportunity here for better school, but it will require a major overhall of how we teach. If we have schools with concentrated grps of student who need help in a way that is good, it creates a way to change education so that we can actually help those kids.

    i am going to give an example for purposes of discussion. If you go into a place like Sylvan they have 1 teacher per 5 kids. this is a program set up to help educate struggling students. maybe if we have schools w large populations like this we need something like a 1/5 student teacher ratio. if we can get these kids educated we can get them better jobs and break a lot of cycles which are creating social service demnds. penny wise here is an opportunity to really make self sufficient adults instead of just decrying tax eater while the peoblems get worse. it also validates charter schools and lets us place kids into schools where we can peovide resources to actually educate them and not just pass them along

  8. - Justin Observer - Monday, Apr 11, 16 @ 12:24 pm:

    I think the charter school movement has been one of the two most damaging trends in public education in the history of this nation. (The other, is the “No Child Left Behind” law, and its various revisions).

    The charter school movement often ends up as a privatization scheme, through a sort of shell game. They can result in huge profits, for a very few. And, the only study I have been able to find showed that only 17% of them have actually yielded higher test scores than the public schools they pull their students from (not that I believe test scores are actually a measure of what they usually claim to be).

    The real damage, that I have personally witnessed, as that they continue in the segregation of schools that existed long before the 1970s, the 1950s, and 1950s. Yes, most charter schools successfully argue that they are lottery-based, and that this somehow protects them from any suspicions of racism. However, what we often forget is the following:

    A lot of people of color (unfortunately) have a mistrust of schools, just as they have a mistrust of law enforcement. Those who are impoverished, especially. Those are the parents who often had negative experiences with school systems when they were young, and they are not exactly going to be first in line to do the paperwork, jump through the hoops, and apply for get their children into a charter school. There is a phrase known as the cycle of poverty, and the Charter School movement preys upon this. I have personally seen two cases near where I live where the community demographics were more than 50% African American, yet the applications for Charter Schools were almost 90% Caucasian.

    And, as is pointed out above, the Charter Schools do get to expel – almost always without the legal restrictions that other public schools have to follow. They do expel, and I have also noticed that the overwhelming majority of students expelled end up being students of color. Those students, of course, now typically return to the traditional public school they came from, leaving the Charter School a little more white, and the traditional public school a little more (ahem) diverse…

    The Charter School movement, as I have personally seen it in practice, is resulting in a return to legalized “Separate, But Equal” — in its actual practice. The 1954 “Brown Versus Board of Education” decision addressed this issue, and of course it took 16 to 25 years before many communities were dragged into compliance, kicking and screaming, usually by judges. The Charter School movement is subverting that decision – and
    I do not believe most have noticed…

  9. - Federalist - Monday, Apr 11, 16 @ 12:26 pm:

    A lot of talk but no real analysis or answers that lead to any effective results.

    And on it goes.

  10. - chicagonk - Monday, Apr 11, 16 @ 12:28 pm:

    Austin and West Garfield Park have been extremely violent places the past two years (more so than usual). I feel for any kid that has to grow up in either neighborhood and I do not blame parents one bit for sending their kids to a safer school outside of the neighborhood if they have the opportunity.

  11. - Curious - Monday, Apr 11, 16 @ 12:31 pm:

    @DuPage Saint

    There was this cop named Burge who had black sites around the city where he tortured innocent (African-American) people on a regular basis. We’ve had State’s Attorneys cover up actual murder (see Koschman, David) and arrest after arrest after arrest of public officials for corruption. But for biggest Chicago scandal you’re gonna go with schools that poor families want to get their kids in because they’re scared to send their kids to the one in their neighborhood?

    Rich said it right, charters CAN be good. Many of them are, some of them are not. It’s the human element that needs to be addressed first.

  12. - Steve - Monday, Apr 11, 16 @ 12:32 pm:

    There’s no easy answers here. You can’t blame teachers for some children who aren’t teachable . Big school districts just don’t work. So, unless CPS is chopped down to small size, nothing much is going to change. If charters and magnets are diminished in Chicago, more children will leave the system.

  13. - Ghost - Monday, Apr 11, 16 @ 12:44 pm:

    Steve i slightly disagree, i think there are answers, they just require change and too many people are afraid of change. I dont think the answers are hard, they are just messy. We have a broken education model and we need to stop trying t make square pegs fit round holes and redesign the thing. Our school system reminds me of the cable commercials with the settlers. our education system is built on settling, or if you prefer a motto of dare to be adequate.

    maybe classes should be more then 50min, school shoild go year round, and kids should be grped by their ability to learn on their own in a lecture style environment v kids who need a lot of hands on help…. for example. to me its not hard answers so much as fear of change and lack of imagination

  14. - Federalist - Monday, Apr 11, 16 @ 12:59 pm:


    Your intentions are good but I do not believe that any of your proposals offer any fundamental change that will rectify this ongoing problem.

    Do I have any? Well not much. But a good start would be to have active involved parents, both parents unless one is dead, in each child’s life and educational development. Extraordinarily high illegitimacy rates have a strong tendency not to facilitate this process.

    Until then everyone will point a different finger as to the cause. Bad teachers, corruption, not enough money, the curriculum, bad administrators- the list is endless.

    But I will stick with my number one cause- high illegitimacy rates and the resultant effect that this far too often leads to lack of parenting.

  15. - Mama - Monday, Apr 11, 16 @ 1:06 pm:

    This means kids with special needs are falling thru the cracks.

  16. - Any Mouse - Monday, Apr 11, 16 @ 1:11 pm:

    Downstate- You are right, the selection of peers is an under appreciated factor.

    The winners in school choice benefit from a virtuous circle, better parental support, fewer incoming behavior issues, fewer family stability issues, more homework support, better faculty, more the school can devote more time to teaching vs. managing behavior.

    Some say the answer is just removing school choice. But that underestimates how far parents will go to get a decent education for their kids. Remember that school choice was developed as a partial antidote to education by zipcode. In short, absent choice they will move.

    Please do not take this/use this as criticism of poor parents. The love is there, but resources matter. The harder you have to work to make sure the rent is paid, there is food in the fridge, the car is repaired so you can keep your job, the less time there is to make sure the homework is done, and even less time to understand how exactly the lottery system works etc.

    Ultimately, if we want our education system to provide comparable educations regardless of class, that means funding low income students at some multiple of middle and upper income students.

    Otherwise we are heading for a hereditary meritocracy. (Which i don’t see as a good thing)

  17. - Mama - Monday, Apr 11, 16 @ 1:11 pm:

    ==Charters can kick kids out for low performance, behavioral problems, etc. and they do that a lot.==

    Charters need to be set up to the same standards as public schools since they are receiving public funds. Kicking kids out for the reasons stated above should not be allowed in any charter school.

  18. - walker - Monday, Apr 11, 16 @ 2:00 pm:

    We reward schools with extra support and prizes based on relative positive performance. As if incentives work in education like they supposedly work in business. Perhaps a hard reversal is needed, where the worst performing schools get a disproportionately high level of support and reward.

  19. - Six Degrees of Separation - Monday, Apr 11, 16 @ 2:24 pm:

    ===the worst performing schools get a disproportionately high level of support and reward.===

    There’s a fine line between rewarding poor performance and putting your resources where the need is the greatest.

  20. - Justin Observer - Monday, Apr 11, 16 @ 2:43 pm:

    Like someone else, here - I think your intentions are honorable, but I also think any teacher will tell you quickly how your proposed solutions are very far off the mark. And, yes, the teachers (quite often) do know.

    You mention:
    “maybe classes should be more then 50min, school shoild go year round”

    Both have been tried, again and again, and every school district that has tried both models has seen worse results — not better. Significantly longer class periods, with no break? All of the research — ALL of it — shows that the result is that it results in the opposite of the intended effect… Yes, it has been tried — in large numbers in the early 1970s (”block scheduling” “flex scheduling” “Intensive Scheduling”) It was tried again by quite a few in the 1990s, often under new names (”Lab Scheduling” “Business Model”). I have lived in two communities where the local school districts both tried it. In both cases, they realized what every district that tried it, realized: it is a disaster. It does work in a very, very few cases, unusual classes where the scope of the class lends itself to close focus, or lab experimentation (an advanced biology class, as an example, often unusual elective classes). All other areas typically suffer.

    Year Round education — longer school year — a complete disaster, similar to the above. It was very big in the 1980s and the 1990s, the entire state of Iowa even tried to force districts into this model. Teachers and parents both screamed bloody murder, test scores plummeted, and even colleges noted students from Iowa were coming in less-prepared… Iowa literally changed legislation to dump it. I know of no school district where it resulted in improvement, regardless of the model used (no break, one month break between four quarters, etc.)

    “and kids should be grped by their ability to learn on their own in a lecture style environment v kids who need a lot of hands on help…. ”

    Ah, grouping by ability / tracking. It can work, but it can also lead to institutionalized racism. And, there have been many cases where this was obviously the result. There have been civil rights lawsuits over this one… When one notices that a school has 90% people of color in the lowest track, and fewer than 3% people of color in the highest track… is this because of the I.Q or the capacity to learn, or the incoming student being “less prepared”? Of course not. Tracking CAN be effective, but it can also be used to justify an easy solution for the “what do we do with our Black students” issue… Much like the lawsuits over the many schools (almost all) who were routinely targeting students of color into Special Ed classes… It became a tool to segregate.

    “for example. to me its not hard answers so much as fear of change and lack of imagination”

    I submit that the issue is not a lack of imagination. Any teacher with more than 15 years will tell you that educational fads come and go, and then they come back, with a new name… “Schools Without Walls” “Learn At Home” “Flex Scheduling” “Year ‘Round School” “Individualized Education” “Mod School” “Pod School” They are gimmicks, they fail (because they do more damage than good… otherwise, believe me, they would become the norm).

    The issues are MUCH more complex than a new pill. A new gimmick. A new fad. Tomorrow’s “innovative” trend… Guess what — it is also identical to one tried 20 years ago, and 40 years ago, and literally 60 years ago… without success. Public education has a long history. Teachers do know what works, and what does not. Administrators, consultants, politicians, et al., often do not, and have an ulterior motive to “try something different.” ($$$, career advancement, etc.)

  21. - Cheryl44 - Monday, Apr 11, 16 @ 3:49 pm:

    I watch everyone I know with children and/or who teach struggle so much with this issue and I am happy I never had kids and that I didn’t take my mother’s advice and get certified so I could have teaching to fall back on.

  22. - OneHandType - Monday, Apr 11, 16 @ 4:11 pm:

    As someone who lives in the city and would like to start a family there in a few years, I am very concerned about this issue.

    My feeling has gone back and forth. I would like to send my kids to a diverse school. Diverse in income, race etc. I would like to be able to send my kids to our neighborhood public school.

    From where I stand, I don’t know if that school will exist in a few years. It seems that well connected, wealthier people are getting more choice at the taxpayers expense. Public schools continue to close or shrink, leaving only the vulnerable.

  23. - Downstate - Monday, Apr 11, 16 @ 4:13 pm:

    Any Mouse,
    Thanks for your insightful comments.

    So much of the educational breakdown is attributable to the societal breakdown of the family. Fix that, and we’re on our way to improving education, as well.

    Interesting article over the weekend about a boy that was homeschooled using MIT’s online learning - all for free.

    This is a one-off example, but one in which we are moving closer to the day in which a parent, anywhere in the world, can provide world class education for their child - for free (scholastic discipline, not included).

  24. - Rich Miller - Monday, Apr 11, 16 @ 4:14 pm:

    ===attributable to the societal breakdown of the family. Fix that===

    Yeah. Easy peasy.

    What do you propose to do about it?

  25. - Downstate - Monday, Apr 11, 16 @ 4:40 pm:

    Of course it’s not an easy solution. But if we think it’s a big enough crisis then we have to make it a priority.

    Some quick examples:
    1. Tie parental tax breaks/entitlements to a student not being absent more than a few days per school year.
    2. Start parenting responsibility classes in the grade school and high school.

    3. Our health care system is rapidly moving toward restricting access to health services for those individuals that don’t maintain a healthy lifestyle. Could we explore opportunities for doing the same thing with parenting?

    Not saying there is an easy solution. Just saying that we need to make it a national priority and start exploring opportunities for change.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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* *** UPDATED x1 *** Isabel’s morning briefing
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