School Closures Not the Answer in Chicago

Across the nation, districts are announcing hundreds of school closures advocates say will result in “better education.”

In March, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett announced the closure of more than 50 public schools with the goal of investing in quality education.

“Every student in every neighborhood deserves a high-quality education that prepares them to succeed. For too long, too many of our children have been trapped in underutilized, under-resourced schools,” said Mayor Emanuel in a press release about the closures.

In reality, the closures are expected to save the district $560 million over the next decade, but will cost $233 million in displaced student and closure costs in the short term, according to the Chicago Tribune. 

Facts Dispute Far-Fetched Claims

A 2009 University of Chicago study found achievement gaps are not closed by shuffling kids around schools. “One year after students left their closed schools, their achievement in reading and math was not significantly different from what we would have expected had their schools not been closed,” the study states. That same study found most displaced students typically are moved from one underachieving school to another underachieving school (see

The study also found that displacing students decreases the number of emotional support systems students have, because the act separates students from trusted adults and friends who could help them adjust to the challenges of a new school.

In addition to adjusting to new school environments, students also have to adjust to new travel routes to schools. Shuffling these students could increase the distance elementary students have to travel to get to school. Estimates of the increased distance range from just a few blocks to almost a mile or more, according to Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Tribune. Since Chicago public schools do not offer transportation for students, these kids may have to walk through unsafe neighborhoods, placing children in further harm than necessary, which does not contribute anything to the quality of their education.

School closures are both harmful and discriminatory to our students. Infographic courtesy of the Opportunity to Learn Campaign.

School closures are both harmful and discriminatory to our students.
Infographic courtesy of the Opportunity to Learn Campaign.


Closures Cripple Neighborhoods

The Chicago school closures also will add a number of empty buildings to neighborhoods already struggling to attract growth. By failing to offer any reasons for growth, these closures run the risk of turning Chicago’s primarily African American and Hispanic neighborhoods into wastelands. Taking schools away from these neighborhoods does not increase their livability, and may drive away community members with the means to move.

“While poverty and crime have decimated the population of many inner-city neighborhoods, shutting down schools in those troubled areas will depopulate them even faster,” DeWayne Wickham notes in USA Today. “The result will be a growing expanse of urban wastelands that could well deepen the budget deficits of the cities that are closing public schools.”

Closing 50 or more schools in a district has very real consequences for teachers, principals, families and students. Educators are displaced, finding themselves laid off because there are not enough jobs in the district to secure employment, while students lose the support and consistency previously present in their education.

The glut of school closures in Chicago and across the nation reduces education to a numbers game—and students shouldn’t be figures in line-item budgets. According to research, the only outcome of this numbers game is a decrease in needed school spending.