Most CPS students whose schools closed switched to better schools: report

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Two students arrive for the last day of school at Kohn Elementary on June 19, 2013. Kohn was one of 50 Chicago Public Schools that were closed in 2013. | Sun-Times file photo

Though most of the 11,000 students who were pushed out when Chicago Public Schools permanently closed their schools in 2013 ended up at schools the district deemed higher-performing, a third still landed at schools with CPS’ lowest rating.

When closing a record 50 schools, CPS promised children would end up in better schools but just 20 percent of students ended up at schools with the district’s top rating, according to a new report published Thursday by the University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research.

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Ninety-three percent of the displaced kids ended up in schools better than the ones that closed, but 25 percent ended up at schools that were not better than where they had been assigned.

That’s because many families chose schools based on proximity to home rather than the district’s school performance ratings, co-author Marisa de la Torre said, and CPS has limited top-tier schools in the predominantly poor, black neighborhoods where the bulk of the schools were closed.

And that’s too bad, de la Torre said, because her previous research shows that displaced children need to move to truly higher performing schools to benefit academically.

“When parents are faced with the reality of having to take the kid every day to school and back, they have to think of many other things,” said de la Torre, whose team interviewed 95 families from 12 of the closed schools, taking care to hit a variety of ages and neighborhoods.

The findings have implications for other districts like Chicago that offer options beyond each child’s assigned neighborhood school, de la Torre said because “you have choice, but a lot of families are really constrained about what they can access.”

But Todd Babbitz, one of CPS’ architects of the closings, interpreted the consortium’s findings as affirming “that we succeeded in sending the vast, vast majority of those students to schools that were more highly rated.”

About three quarters of the 3,464 students who didn’t attend the school CPS chose for them ended up at a school better than the one that closed, he said. Babbitz also pointed to 2,000 more children from closed schools who ended up in the top-rated schools and “would not have been in the prior year.”

Nonetheless, the transition wasn’t perfect everywhere, so CPS kept extra academic help or counseling in place at one out of about every five schools that took in kids from closed schools — and added more Safe Passage programs, said Denise Little, one of CPS’ top academic officers.

CPS has said that displaced children have outperformed their peers — at least at the 2013-14 school year’s midway point. The district never released figures from the full school year. A Chicago Sun-Times analysis of standardized test scores from that year showed performance at those schools was a mixed bag at best, with some large gains but some of the city’s biggest drops from the year before.

De la Torre’s report shows that the schools that were closed served a larger share of vulnerable children than CPS’ average — more low-income students, more children old for their grade, more considered special education students and more who had moved in the previous year — so how they fared in their new schools is a topic she hopes to study next.

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