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Editorial: CTU, don’t burn down the house

CTU President Karen Lewis speaks during rally oppositiplan close public schools Chicago Ill. Wednesday March 27 2013. | Andrew A.

CTU President Karen Lewis speaks during a rally in opposition to the plan to close public schools in Chicago, Ill., on Wednesday, March 27, 2013. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 29, 2013 11:50AM



With the Chicago Teachers Union as its pied piper, Chicago could easily walk off the cliff.

At a rally and sit-in downtown Wednesday that disrupted rush hour traffic and resulted in 127 tickets for protesters, the union leadership repeated its demand to stop all school closures.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants 54 under-enrolled schools closed this year. The teachers union wants none.

Room for a middle ground? Without a doubt, despite Emanuel’s assertion Wednesday that he is singularly focused on moving forward with the 54.

But zero closures? Not a chance.

Faced with an under-enrollment problem and a fiscal problem, many schools absolutely must close.

The first question now should be: How many schools can CPS humanely shutter this year? We’ve said repeatedly that a large number like 54 in a single year, impacting more than 30,000 children in closing and receiving schools, is unworkable and wrong.

And then there’s the second big question: where has CPS gone wrong in assembling its closure list? Undoubtedly, CPS’ list includes schools that should be saved as well as receiving schools that cannot absorb students without causing harm. This should be the focus of public conversation and of the upcoming hearings for each and every proposed closure

But these questions are nowhere to be found in CTU’s rhetoric.

“CPS continues to peddle half-truths, lies and misinformation in order to justify its campaign to wipe out our schools and carry out this corporate-driven school reform nonsense,” CTU likes to say in its press releases.

But armed with its own brand of half-truths (CPS is indeed guilty of aggressive spin), the CTU is preventing the public from looking at this issue honestly and of finding constructive ways to push CPS to further whittle down its list.

We get it, of course. Swing a big stick and you’ll hit something. Moreover, making noise can draw attention to deeper issues at play here, ones artfully articulated by one teacher at Wednesday’s rally:

“No matter what they do about the closures, at the end of the day the system is still broken,” said Jacelin Cadet, a teacher at Joplin School in West Englewood, who opposes the closures. “The kids don’t get the support they need, the principals don’t get the resources they need. It’s a system that’s destined to fail the kids.”

In the meantime, CTU continues to roil the waters by lobbing these bombs:

◆ Closings are “racist” because black schools are the primary target, a theme CTU President Karen Lewis repeated Wednesday. Yes, CPS is targeting black neighborhoods for closure. No racist conspiracy there. That’s where the population decline, under-enrollment and low achievement problems are most severe.

◆ Closures save no money, the union claims. But other cities have produced savings, albeit modest ones, from shuttering buildings, research shows. CPS projects saving in Chicago as well, which we’ll dissect on this page in the coming days.

◆ The school system has no “safety plan” for the school consolidations, CTU claims. Yes, details for individual consolidations are in flux but CPS has committed months to eliminating from the closure list schools it felt it couldn’t safely consolidate and to drafting a safety plan, complete with additional security guards, safe passage routes and coordination with police. To say otherwise is unfair.

Hidden in CTU’s rhetoric are important truths about what CPS risks with these closures — student safety, neighborhood stability and slim odds that students who transfer will be substantially better off academically (University of Chicago research says students benefitted academically in past closings only when they were transferred to top-performing schools).

Let’s talk about these important issues, along with ways to get the closure list just right.

Don’t burn down the house.



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