Math teacher challenges logic of closing an 'average' school

CPS is closing 10 percent of its grammar schools. A math teacher says Ericson Academy is nowhere near the bottom 10 percent on any measure.

May 14, 2013

(WBEZ/Linda Lutton)
Math teacher Michael Colwell, at home with school utilization spreadsheets.

Michael Colwell teaches math to 7th and 8th graders at Leif Ericson Elementary Scholastic Academy in Garfield Park, one of 53 grammar schools the district wants to shut down in its effort to right size.

Colwell has been looking at lots of school data—district spreadsheets are pulled up on his home computer, just underneath his Scrabble game—but he says he can’t see why Ericson would be among the 10 percent of grammar schools Chicago is closing.

“We have better test scores than about 200 schools in the city. If you look at any of the metrics they measure us by, whether it’s any of the standardized testing, the utilization rates, enrollment—we’re nowhere near the bottom 10 percent in any of them,” said Colwell.

I checked Mr. Colwell’s work. Ericson is the 242nd most underutilized school in Chicago (out of 681).

And with 71.8 percent of students meeting standards, Ericson ranks in the middle third of CPS schools, 337th place out of 544 elementary schools.

“We’re an average school," says Colwell. And in a district with a lot of problems, he can't figure out why you would close average.

Colwell points to other measures where Ericson is doing well. He says teachers recently found out Ericson has the second highest student attendance in the area, beating out 17 other schools. "Kids like coming there. Teachers like teaching there. Parents like sending their kids there. It’s a solid school. By no means does it deserve to be closed."

Colwell challenges the public to look up Ericson Academy's test scores later this summer if the school is shuttered. "I think...you'll see that we've improved, and we've done better than many of the schools that are still out there."

Colwell and other teachers will lose their jobs if the school board votes next Wednesday to close Ericson. In all, more than 2,000 jobs are threatened.

CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll says schools were removed from the longer list of potential closings based on criteria created with community input.  Ericson didn’t meet the criteria that eliminated other schools, Carroll said.

Colwell says he hates politics, but he is taking his math to Springfield Wednesday to lobby for a moratorium on closings.

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