Chicago Public Schools released a controversial analysis Friday that breaks down the number of students in each area of the city, the types of schools in these areas, their academic performance, and whether the schools have room for more students.
School district officials say this is all publicly available data, but by putting it in one place, they want schools and communities to use it to make the case why they should be awarded a particular type of program, such as International Baccalaureate, fine arts, or STEM.
But some CPS observers are concerned this data book, called the Annual Regional Analysis, also highlights where schools are severely under-enrolled. They fear it will be used to justify another round of school closings. CPS closed a record 50 schools in 2013. After a five-year moratorium on closings lifted this year, CPS voted in February to close or phase out four high schools.
On Friday, CPS CEO Janice Jackson said “this is not about closing schools.”
“My approach is simple, we have to start having honest conversations with community members and not make decisions for them,” Jackson said. She said she is hoping the data book shows people there are more good schools in their community than they are aware of and that it will spur the creation of more.
“My approach is to start with the investment, to make people excited about the schools in their community, and to bring people back to schools in those communities,” she said.
She said the school system is also rolling out a multistep process for schools to apply for specialty programs. In the past, school district officials mostly have anointed schools with such programs, sometimes because the principals and parents wanted them and other times without them being requested.
With the Annual Regional Analysis, Jackson says schools can see what their community needs and argue for it. She insisted it is a guide for school district investment to will create more equity.
But some of the suspicion about the Annual Regional Analysis is fueled by the organization, Kids First, the district worked with to create it. Kids First had two previous iterations, New Schools For Chicago and the Renaissance Schools Fund. Both organizations helped provide seed money for new schools, including charter schools, that have helped lead to the depopulation of some neighborhood schools on the South and West sides
Kids First Chief Executive Officer Daniel Anello praised the school district for releasing the analysis.
“By openly sharing this data with communities throughout the city, the district is standing by their commitments to enhance transparency, listen to community members, and find new solutions that come directly from our neighborhoods,” Anello said.