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Editorial: Up to 47,500 kids in school shake-ups

Karen Lewis center President Chicago Teachers Uniaddresses other opponents plan close 54 Chicago Public Schools during demonstratimarch through Chicago's downtown

Karen Lewis, center, President of the Chicago Teachers Union addresses other opponents of a plan to close 54 Chicago Public Schools during a demonstration and march through Chicago's downtown Wednesday, March 27, 2013. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett say the closings are necessary because too many CPS facilities are half-empty and academically failing. They say shuttering buildings will allow the district to move students to higher quality schools and help trim a $1 billion budget shortfall. Opponents say the plan disproportionately affects minority students and won't save money. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast) ORG XMIT: ILCA107

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Updated: May 11, 2013 6:25AM

Just how many students will see their lives changed by the proposed Chicago school shake-ups?

Way more than “over 30,000,” the number CPS officials say will be affected by proposed school mergers this summer.

The total for all the different school shake-ups proposed could be as high as 47,500, two University of Illinois professors say — 58 percent higher than the CPS number.

CPS counts only school consolidations in its figure. The UIC analysis covers the full scope of proposed school shake-ups, including 108 consolidated schools, about 19 co-locations (two schools in one building) and six “turnarounds” (CPS replaces the staff but the children remain).

Those 133 schools represent 23 percent of all district-run elementary schools.

The UIC estimate is more honest. And that mind-boggling number of students, to be reshuffled over an exceptionally short time, is the main reason we urge CPS to scale back its closures this year or spread them over two years — let’s get this right.

Increasingly, we are convinced that there are schools on the closure list that don’t even belong there. Last week, for example, we profiled Garvey, a beloved Washington Heights school that puts nearly every room to good use in its supposedly under-used building and, on raw test scores, outperforms the school that is to absorb it. Garvey isn’t the only school that makes a good case for its survival, as some of the closure hearings that began on Saturday are making clear.

Other mistakes are coming to light as more complete pictures of schools emerge — far more complete pictures than what CPS has put out.

First: Those 47,500 students.

Federico R. Waitoller and Josh Radinsky, professors at UIC, simply added up the students in the 133 schools affected by a shake-up. They also found nearly 7,200 impacted special education students, many of whom struggle mightily with transitions. The professors erred by including eight-graders, who won’t be affected because they are headed to high school, but CPS says there only 1,600 eighth-graders in the 109 consolidated schools. CPS couldn’t give us the total for all school actions. Furthermore, eighth-graders will be replaced by new kindergartners who certainly will be affected by the closing of their local school or their new school absorbing hundreds of new students all at once.

The professors used slightly outdated numbers from 2011-12, and enrollment has dropped by about 2,000 since then. CPS argues that the impact on students will be less with turnarounds and co-locations. Maybe so, but any school shake-up, well, shakes up a school community.

Second: CPS’ other “sins of omission.”

In its sales pitch for closing specific schools, CPS often deliberately paints an incomplete picture. CPS is indeed upgrading its “welcoming schools,” for example, but that doesn’t mean the closing schools have nothing to offer.

In our Garvey profile, we noted that CPS played up what parents might find at the designated welcoming school, including pre-school, air conditioning and a computer lab. CPS failed to mention that Garvey has all that, plus higher test scores.

It’s the same pattern on other so-called CPS fact sheets.

The public is told that Chopin, which is absorbing Lafayette in Humboldt Park, has air conditioning and a pre-school. Well, so does Lafayette, plus a stellar music program. None of that gets a mention. Ditto for the proposed absorption of M. Jackson into Fort Dearborn in Auburn-Gresham. CPS also fails to say both schools are on probation, though it does fairly note that Fort Dearborn’s scores are considerably higher.

CPS must close some schools because of low enrollment, but it would go down easier with the public — and mistakes with real, human consequences would be avoided — if CPS told the full story.

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