What’s wrong with CPS’ school utilization formula?

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A Sun-Times editorial on Friday called on CPS to close schools over two years rather than one.

Among the arguments was this: “Given problems with the formula CPS uses to label a school as underused, it makes sense to target for closure the most acutely underused schools, those that are below 60 percent capacity. In many poor communities, those small, tight-knit schools can be a real gift.”

We didn’t elaborate because of space restraints. We’ve covered the problems with the school building formula before, as have many others.

But more details sure would be helpful. Below are some resources to help understand the problems with formula:

1. Sun-Times editorial, Jan. 13, 2013, “Close many schools, but not in a panic”

Here’s the relevant paragraphs:

In the coming days, Byrd-Bennett will name the schools still eligible for closure and, starting Jan. 28, CPS will host neighborhood meetings to get feedback on individual schools. She’s also getting detailed feedback from principals on space usage and looking closely at individual schools.

That’s a start for picking which schools to close, but not enough given problems with the formula used to determine building utilization rates. CPS claims about half its 681 schools are under-used, with nearly 140 more than half empty. But many legitimate criticisms of CPS’ one-size-fits-all formula have been raised, including a failure to account for schools with large special-education populations, different room sizes needed for different ages and the relatively small number of rooms allowed for classes like art and music. It also only counts a school as overcrowded once average class size reaches 36, not the system maximum class size of 31.

These issues have been raised most effectively by Apples to Apples, an independent research effort connected to the advocacy group Raise Your Hand. Given the blunt instrument being used, CPS must focus only on the most under-used schools and then gather more detailed on-the-ground information to verify the severity of the under-enrollment. An outside evaluation of CPS’ formula also would help rebuild trust between the school system and parents.

2. Apples to Apples research

Click here for the website

3. A recent Chicago Tribune story, “School closing critics question CPS’ ‘ideal’ class size of 30 students.”

Click here for the story

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