Chicago education officials will vote today on the fate of 54 public schools slated for closure. The vote comes after several weeks of inspiring actions, including city-wide student walkouts, teacher-led marches, and even the filing of federal lawsuits.
The proposed closings would be the one of the largest instances of mass school closures in the country. And like other closings, it disproportionately hurts low-income students and students of color. If the resulting protests are anything to go by, parents, students, teachers and whole communities have a different opinion about how to fix their schools – by investing in them rather than closing them.
Hundreds of Chicago students led a walkout in late April to protest high-stakes testing and the city's use of those tests as justification for closing schools. Timothy Anderson, a student organizer with Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE) explained in a recent op-ed why he opted out of one of the tests to protest for more resources in his school:
"Under so much pressure to raise its Prairie State test scores, the administration tried to take advantage of the promotion policy and demote a third of the junior class, just to keep us from taking the test and bringing down the school’s scores. I was having challenges at school but the last thing I would have expected is that my school system would demote me instead of supporting me.
This is not what school systems are supposed to do to students. They are supposed to provide extra support to students like me who don’t do well on tests or who might fall behind. But instead, they tried to make us disappear.
I care about my education. I want to go to college and to study music engineering. But when the future of a school rests on its test scores, students like me get demoted or pushed out. That’s why I joined the more than 100 juniors who boycotted the second day of the PSAE. We boycotted school, and the test, to send a message to Mayor Rahm Emanuel: School closings and student push-out, driven by high-stakes testing, must end."
This past weekend, teachers and organizers from across the city participated in three days of marches. The Chicago Teachers Union filed two lawsuits on behalf of parents and their special needs children. And today, as city officials vote on the fates of those 54 schools, students are holding a vigil outside CPS headquarters for the closed schools.
While it's sad to see these mass closures take place and officials continuing to laud and make use of high-stakes tests, it's inspiring to see so many communities organizing to protect their schools.