Chicago education officials voted on May 22nd to close 50 public schools, the largest instance of mass school closures in the country and one that disproportionately affects students of color and low-income students. If the protests in the months leading up to the vote and the actions since then are anything to go by, partents, 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."
Just before the vote on May 22, teachers and organizers from across the city participated in three days of marches. The Chicago Teachers Union filed two lawsuits on behalf of parents of special needs children. And as city officials voted on the fates of those 54 schools, students held a vigil outside Chicago Public Schools headquarters for the closed schools.
These mass closures are unconscionable, and it's disheartening to see officials so devoted to reform policies that eliminate rather than support struggling schools. That said, it is absolutely inspiring to see so many communities uniting and organizing to fight for their schools.
You can learn more about alternatives to closures from Communities for Excellent Public Schools (CEPS), which several years ago released "A Proposal for Sustainable School Transformation," a document that has since been held up by organizers fighting school closures as a model for the types of policies that would support and improve struggling schools.