By Robert Schroeder
“I think the streets, our community meetings, our churches, our block clubs, our families, our elected officials, and the courts are all arenas that people need to use to demonstrate that these school closings are actually very damaging to children and families.”
After weeks of raucous protests, determined sit-ins, passionate school board speeches and high-profile marches, the fate of nearly 50 Chicago Public Schools reached its climax in the quiet of a softly-lit, oak-paneled courtroom at the Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago.
On the hot seat of the witness stand sat the College of Education’s Pauline Lipman, PhD, professor of educational policy studies, ready to assert through the legalese what research had already concluded about the effects of school closings on communities.
Lipman (right) told the federal court that when schools are closed and students are transferred to other schools, students do not benefit academically unless they go to top performing schools, which a small percentage actually have gone on to do as a result of closings.
“When we look at school closings, where they are, we see they are in neighborhoods already destabilized by poverty, lack of employment, lack of affordable housing and the destruction of public housing, so in neighborhoods already facing these stresses, schools are often the only anchors left in the community,” Lipman said. “To close a school in that context really destabilizes the community, and there is very little research to suggest this benefits students.”
Ultimately, the court ruled in favor of CPS, ruling that although the closings had a disproportionate effect on African American and Latino children and families, there was no proof the closings were intentionally targeted at these populations. Lipman says the law regarding racial discrimination and schooling is so narrowly defined that legislation is needed at the local, state and national level to proclaim a moratorium on school closings.
Lipman, who directs the Collaborative for Equity and Justice in Education at the College, and Kelly Vaughan, PhD Curriculum and Instruction ’13, are leading a Collaborative initiative to study the effects of Chicago school closings on local communities to build on the existing body of research. The study seeks to quantify and qualify the social and emotional effects, going beyond measures of academic achievement and exploring community stabilization.
Faculty and staff from the Collaborative will interview 180 parents in three areas of the city hit by school closings, asking parents about safety issues, resources they were promised from CPS to facilitate the move to welcoming schools, the academic climate of welcoming schools and how children feel about their experiences. The researchers are sharing what they learn with parents and community organizations to support their advocacy for strong neighborhood schools and just education.
Additionally, the Collaborative is seeking to establish a record of where every student from a closing school has re-enrolled, data CPS has not shared. Lipman believes consulting with parents as part of the research project is key because parents were largely not consulted as part of the closings process, particularly in terms of where children would be re-enrolled.
“We know anecdotally that some parents have moved to the suburbs because they were so unhappy with the choices provided by CPS,” Lipman said. “Or parents have chosen to send their children not to the receiving school but to a school that might not have as many resources but is closer and safer for their child.”
Lipman sees the closing of public schools and expansion of charters schools and selective enrollment schools as policies geared towards reshaping the city landscape as opposed to simply reshaping education.
“I think in some Black communities that are left with almost no public schooling, we are really seeing a kind of abandonment,” Lipman said. “It is a reshaping of the city linked to housing policies and gentrification, the pushing out of low-income working class people.”