The Washington Post

The biggest irony in Chicago’s mass closing of schools

President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. ( President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. (

There’s some deep irony in this:

In 2002, Arne Duncan, then the head of the Chicago public schools system, announced that he was closing three elementary schools because they had been failing students for years. It was the start of a strategy of closing down schools that were academically failing or under-enrolled and reopening them as a new school.

When Duncan was named education secretary in 2008 by Barack Obama, the president-elect praised Duncan’s record of closing and reopening schools — as if it was a strategy that enjoyed great success, according to this WBEZ story:

He’s shut down failing schools and replaced their entire staffs, even when it was unpopular. This school right here, Dodge Renaissance Academy, is a perfect example. Since this school was revamped and reopened in 2003, the number of students meeting state standards has more than tripled.

As it turns out, according to WBEZ,  the three schools that Duncan first closed and revamped are all being “shaken up” as part of the newly announced closure of 50 public Chicago schools, the largest mass school closing in U.S. history.

One of the schools is being closed outright. Another is being moved more than a mile away to a different building to share space with another elementary school. As for the third school Duncan closed in 2002, well, a public charter school is now in that building and it was just placed on academic probation with the threat of closure, WBEZ  said.

The closing and reopening of schools was a signature initiative of Duncan’s when he ran Chicago’s schools. It was not what you’d call a success.

The Consortium on Chicago School Research, a nonpartisan group of researchers at the University of Chicago, released a report in 2009 saying that the school closings during Duncan’s tenure as head of the Chicago schools did very little, if anything, in improving the achievement of students who were sent to other schools. Duncan closed 44 schools during his time in Chicago and “turned around” — or changed the staff — at a dozen others.

Chicago officials today have promised that children in closed schools will all go to higher-achieving schools. Parents aren’t holding their collective breath.

WBEZ checked out some of the “facts” given by Chicago officials in their explanations for why they were closing so many schools, and the station came up with some discrepancies. It’s worth reading.


Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.



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Valerie Strauss · May 29, 2013

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