by Diane Ravitch
Never in U.S. history has a local school board – or any other board, appointed or elected – chosen to close 49 public schools.
That's what the Chicago Public Schools did yesterday.
Thousands of parents, students, and teachers objected, but Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his puppet board didn't care.
Yesterday was a day of infamy in Chicago and in the history of American education.
School boards exist to protect, improve, and support public schools, not to kill them.
The New York Times has written about this story and twice said that the school closings were the largest "in recent memory ." The Times wrote this despite my telling them – twice – that these were the largest mass closure ever. I wish the reporters would explain whose "memory" they were relying on. Just yesterday I explained in an email that no public school district had ever closed 49 schools at one time. On this issue, the "Times" is not the newspaper of record but the newspaper of "recent memory."
Why does it matter? The phraseology removes the truly historic destruction that Rahm Emanuel is inflicting on children and schools in his city. He is wantonly destroying public education. He is punishing the teachers' union for daring to strike last fall. He will open more charter schools, staffed by non-union teachers, to pick up the kids who lost their neighborhood schools. Some of them will be named for the equity investors who fund his campaigns.
Rahm and his friends will laugh about the way he displaced 40,000 kids.
by Mark Naison
The Chicago School closings are part and parcel of a strategy for remaking the American metropolis as a center for spatial and economic transformations which will further cement economic inequality. One key component of this strategy is demographic inversion- moving the poor out of the center city into the periphery, where they will no longer be able to physically or politically threaten the global elites who will be working and playing in the redeveloped Center. This process is already well under way in cities like New York, Chicago, Washington and Milwaukee- with the result being that more poor people now live in suburbs than in cities- but for poor people who remain in cities, the elite's preferred strategy is intrusive, "stop and frisk" policing and the transformation of public schools into sites of draconian discipline where compliance and obedience are the preferred behaviors, strategies taken to the highest point of perfection by some of the nation's most celebrated charter schools.
Where do school closings fit in this elaborate strategy to scatter and neutralize the poor? Public schools in poor neighborhoods, even those whose test scores mark them as "failing," are important centers of community life, places where different generations of people interact and mark their connection to historical space. They contain memories of families raised, community arts forms celebrated, sports victories won, powerful friendships forged. If you ignore those experiences and reduce the school to its failures, you erase a communities history and make that community easier to divide and disperse.
Underlying School Closings is a world view which marks off residents of poor communities, not just the schools in them as failures, people who have to be dispersed, incarcerated, disciplined and divided for the Global Metropolis to prosper.
It reveals the profound moral bankruptcy and cynicism pervading neo-liberal economic policies, whether they have a Democratic or Republican facade.
by Karen Lewis, President, Chicago Teachers Union, Local 1, AFT
"Today is a day of mourning for the children of Chicago. Their education has been hijacked by an unrepresentative, unelected corporate school board, acting at the behest of a mayor who has no vision for improving the education of our children. Closing schools is not an education plan. It is a scorched earth policy. Evidence shows that the underutilization crisis has been manufactured. Their own evidence also shows the school district will not garner any significant savings from closing these schools.
"This is bad governance. CPS has consistently undermined school communities and sabotaged teachers and parents. Their actions have had a horrible domino effect. More than 40,000 students will lose at least three to six months of learning because of the Board's actions. Because many of them will now have to travel into new neighborhoods to continue their schooling, some will be victims of bullying, physical assault and other forms of violence. Board members are wishing for a world that does not exist and have ignored the reality of the world we live in today. Who on the Board will be held responsible? Who at City Hall will be held responsible?
"Members of the Board of Education, the school CEO, the mayor and their corporate backers are on the wrong side of history. History will judge them for the tragedy they have inflicted upon our students; and it will not be kind.
"Our fight for education justice has now moved to the courts, but it must eventually move to the ballot box. The parents are amazing leaders in their school communities and because of this administration's actions we have all become closer and more united. We must resist this neoliberal savagery masquerading as school reform. We must resist racism in all of its forms as well as the escalating attacks on the working class and the poor. Our movement will continue."
by Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers
Washington – AFT President Randi Weingarten's statement on the Chicago school closings: "What we witnessed today was the largest mass school closing in America's history. Sadly, the reasons for these closings seemed to have changed over the course of the last few months, as a May 16 WBEZ analysis demonstrated. When the district's claims – namely, that these closings would produce the savings promised, that children would really go to better-quality schools, and that the closings were because of underenrollment and underutilization – were scrutinized, serious questions were raised. That leaves a strong impression that these were political decisions, not decisions made in the best interests of children. In addition, this school closure strategy is not what the people of Chicago want. According to a recent Chicago Tribune poll, just 19 percent of Chicagoans sided with this strategy.
"Separate and apart from what it means for the continuity and stability of children's schooling, the evidence makes clear these mass closings will destabilize neighborhoods, and it has raised serious safety concerns for children in a city where there is already too much violence. "We are left at a loss as to why the board chose to ignore the parents, teachers, students and residents of Chicago in pursuing this reckless strategy that is not what the people want and will not help children.
"We commend CTU President Karen Lewis, CTU members, parents, students and the greater Chicago community, who have attempted at every step to do what is in the best interests of kids and Chicago's public schools."