The history of school closings in Chicago 2002-12

The history of school closings in Chicago 2002-12
The history of school closings in Chicago 2002-12

The history of school closings in Chicago 2002-12

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WBEZ plotted annual school closings and schools “turned around” since the 2001-02 school year when CPS began shuttering schools as a reform strategy.

This sortable chart and map shows where schools have been closed or turned around (where the staff is completely replaced but students remain), what’s become of the old buildings and how well the new schools in those buildings are performing. The chart includes updated performance data from the 2011-12 school year.

More than a decade ago, Chicago Public Schools unveiled a school reform strategy that would change the course of the school district and fundamentally reshape its long-term approach to failing schools.

On April 10, 2002, then CPS Chief Executive Officer Arne Duncan announced CPS would permanently close three schools it said were chronically low-performing and not improving: Williams, Dodge and Terrell. The district vowed to open wholly new schools at Williams and Dodge. It said Terrell would remain closed due to declining enrollment.

“We don’t believe these schools as they currently exist will ever measure up,” Duncan said at the time. “There are better education alternatives within walking distance.”

It was Chicago’s introduction to “Renaissance” schools. The hope was that an entirely new staff, a new school or even an outside entity other than the school district could create high-performing schools from the ashes of those shuttered.

Since then, Chicago Public Schools has closed or completely re-staffed more than 100 schools. The announcement of “school actions”—closings, consolidations, turnarounds—has occurred annually since 2002, and has provoked anguished criticism that has still not dissipated.

Most of the shuttered buildings now house new schools, but many serve different student populations. Almost all of the schools that closed were neighborhood schools with attendance boundaries. Now, more than half of the replacement schools admit students by lottery or test scores.

The closings and turnarounds have disproportionately affected African American schools on the West and South Sides. Humboldt Park, the Near West Side and Grand Boulevard have had the largest number of school shake-ups. Many closings are also clustered around former Chicago Housing Authority developments.

The performance of the replacement schools (those located in buildings where either closure or turnaround has occured) is also mixed. Fifteen percent of them were rated “Level 1” by CPS, the highest performance level, according to the most recent data (2011-2012). Thirty-two percent were rated “Level 2,” another 32 percent were rated “Level 3,” the lowest rating CPS gives, and 20 percent did not have enough data.

Jane Verwys created the graphics for this article.


  • “Stated reason” for closure was taken from CPS press materials, board reports or archived news articles. In some cases, the stated reason was not clear, or there were multiple reasons given.
  • This is a list of schools closed during the district’s annual round of school closings, the majority for poor performance or low enrollment. The district has closed or transformed a handful of additional schools not included on this list over the past decade.