March 24, 2013

Incredibly, Chicago Public School administrators have made the decision to close 54 neighborhood schools, most of them in poor urban areas, which will force children to cross gang boundaries in order to get to school.

Chicago Teachers' Union Karen Lewis was blunt in this interview with PBS, calling Rahm Emanuel out for only listening to the corporate reformers while giving no attention to the children this decision will affect.

She also points out that spreadsheet-driven decisions do not translate to practical reality.

Well, we oppose it because it's completely destabilizing of neighborhoods in which their neighborhood is already destabilized.

Jesse Ruiz is very good at laying out the problems from a spreadsheet analysis. And it makes perfect sense. Oh, let's put two places together that are underutilized. The problem is, the reason most of these buildings are underutilized is because we have had decades of school closings.

So, the school closings have created this underutilization issue. And one of the things that is very problematic about it is, if you listen to him, it's all corporate-speak. So, this is an attack. It's a corporate attack on public education. We have 25 buildings right now that are still vacant from the closings.

Why is this? Because when a neighborhood school closes, people don't continue to live in that neighborhood. They move to an area where their children are not put at risk by having to cross gang lines. And as Lewis rightly points out, those lines are amorphous and difficult to navigate. Lewis:

I love how he says, well, we're going to repurpose these buildings. Those are all perhaps. I hope everybody noticed that. There's no plan for this. There's no safety plan block by block. People do not understand how unsafe Chicago is right now. I know you have heard it and you have talked about it. But, literally, we have 59 different gangs in Chicago and 650 branches of those gangs.

So, we're talking block by block. So sending children from one place to the next could be deadly. And, in addition, there are a lot of special ed programs. I was at a school yesterday that was a fairly new building that had already been retrofitted with the things that they said they wanted to give, libraries, computer labs, science labs, beautiful building.

It's more than that, though. Schools targeted for closure serve mostly minorities, up to 94 percent in some cases. Those children are already disadvantaged and struggling with poverty, family problems, lack of food security and more. The one stable place they have is school. It's the place they can actually get hot meals and a sense of security. No one wants to talk about poverty and how it impacts children because that's the ugly reality of this country, and when it impacts minority children it's especially easy for politicians to overlook. But it is poverty at the heart of the problem in Chicago, and taking away kids' access to an education is not the answer.

Lewis points to corporate reformers as the culprit:

I mean, this is a problem that we have been seeing, again, nationwide. But here in Chicago, it's especially heinous, because we have a mayor that only has the ear -- the only people that have his ear are the corporate reformer types. So they won't listen to ways to really accomplish the kind of things we want to do.

Let's get real here for a minute. The corporate reformers aren't going to do anything for the kids in these areas. Nothing. Oh, they'll make pretty noises about all the charter schools they're going to open, but there are no guarantees, as we've seen when Gates pulled all of the funding out from under his once-pet project, the small schools initiative. They might toss some money toward a charter school here and there, or let CPS sell the properties to the for-profit charter managers, but no one who lives in those neighborhoods believes for a second their school will reopen. No one.

What is happening here is a draconian pre-emptive strike against public education. A shameful one, which will not be resolved easily or quietly, nor should it be.

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