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CPS vows to keep tabs on all 12,700 kids sent to new schools due to closings

Students file out  Calhoun North Elementary School city's west side Wednesday afternoon. The Chicago School Board had yet vote

Students file out of Calhoun North Elementary School on the city's west side Wednesday afternoon. The Chicago School Board had yet to vote to close public schools across the city. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: June 27, 2013 6:37AM

In last year’s round of closings at Chicago Public Schools, more than 400 children were displaced from four elementary schools, and the district wasn’t able to say where some ended up.

Chicago Public Schools says this year, as it moves nearly 13,000 children from a record number of schools approved this week to close, it will track all its displaced students to see where they land, how they fare in their new school, and what the influx means for the new school.

“We have to know what happens. Because we want to be able to continue to take steps where necessary beyond the first academic year, so I‘ve got to know both individually for [each child] and collectively for all the kids from [that child’s] school, what was the impact here?” said Tom Tyrrell, who’s heading up the transition for the district. “It’s going to be interesting to see if the old tale about if you take a Level 1 [high performing school] and add a Level 3 [low performing school] it’s a Level 2 [middle performing school]. I’m not sure that’s going to be necessarily the case. We certainly hope that’s not going to be the case.”

Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has said that the district must consolidate schools to better use its finite resources for educating children — instead of wasting money on buildings that aren’t full. She has also promised that children will be sent to higher performing schools.

CPS will track a number of pieces of information for each child and receiving school, such as attendance and ISAT scores. Other specifics are still in development, Tyrrell said.

Some 12,700 children need to enroll in new schools, according to the district, when 48 schools disappear in June. Whether they attend the 49 receiving schools the district is steering them toward or choose another neighborhood school that still has space is up to their parents, Tyrrell said.

The early enrollment drive, begun Thursday to help plan for teachers and budgets, will quickly identify which families need intervention to get their children settled somewhere, be it another CPS school, a charter or outside district boundaries, he said.

“We will speak with all 13,000 parents, guardians, or however many it is,” he said, adding that 1,500 kids had been enrolled the first 36 hours of the campaign.

Less than half of children whose schools closed in June 2012 went to their designated welcoming schools, according to a report CPS filed with the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force in February. Others ended up at other CPS schools, charters or outside the district, though CPS acknowledged that they couldn’t account at all for about 5 percent of the 439 students that should have come from four closing schools.

Alsolast year, about 9,500 students at 23 schools were affected by all closings, phaseouts, turnarounds and sending multiple schools into a single building, about 6,300 of them in schools that were turned around.

“They’venever been able to do it in the past, and now they’re doing it on a much, much larger scale,” said Jesse Sharkey, vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union.

The CTU has been arguing in vain for a moratorium on all closings, saying CPS isn’t prepared to handle so many closures at once.

Sharkey told the board before its historic vote Wednesday that just as the mayor said he’d be politically accountable for the closing, board members should be “educationally accountable for the real results.”

“We must derive truth from facts here, so … we need the Board of Education to commit that you will not lose any students, that is to say, you should be able to account in one year’s time for where every student went. We need you to commit that you will own up to the declines in academic progress that will happen.”

CTU studied the effects of closing Guggenheim Elementary School in Englewood, where about 6 percent of the students couldn’t be located after it closed. CPS was “unable to say where they had gone, whether they had gone out of state, gone to a charter school, gone to another CPS school — they don’t know,” Sharkey said Friday.

So the CTU wants the district to provide facts that will document successes or failures of the closings.

“There have been some vague and fuzzy promises which need to be investigated further in a more database way,” Sharkey said. “We’re very concerned about, whether or not they’re going to track what happens to the performance of schools they consolidate in this kind of way. Are we going to get a honest and full accounting of the performance of the receiving school goes up or down?”

As for academic progress, the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research found in a 2009 report, that after schools close, students who are transferred to low-performing schools don’t make many academic gains. It’s only students who move to a significantly better performing school who progress significantly, according to the study.

And of the 48 schools closing in June, 20 of them have kids who are being sent to schools at the same performance level; 14 of those are low performing, known as Level 3.

Marisa de la Torre, one of the authors of that study, said CPS shouldn’t have a problem tracking its own kids once they decide to do so. She tracked some 96 percent of the kids she studied who were affected by closing.

“Every student has a student identifier that is unique, and once you have the data, you are able to follow the student ID over time and know exactly where they are enrolled. “They have a wonderful data structures over there so it shouldn’t be a problem.”

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