Some Rays Of Hope Shine Through In Overcrowded CPS Schools

By Lisa White in News on Oct 3, 2013 9:20PM

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Photo credit: Justin Carlson

The Reader last week took the continuing Chicago Public Schools drama to a personal level with their cover story on parents who are feeling forced out of the city in order to get the best education for their children. CPS enrollment is down, yet overcrowding in neighborhood schools has risen and some families are washing their hands of the whole situation.

A theme the Reader brings up between the families they spoke to is the fact they are all considered middle-class, so they can afford to uproot to nearby suburbs. So what are families who can’t afford this option, or families that firmly do not want to move, facing with the current climate at the CPS? According to reports they face multiple instances of severe overcrowding in schools that were already were packed in the first place. During all of this the Illinois Network of Charter Schools announced that 15 new charter public schools would open this fall, so it is no surprise as parents transition to charter schools or move out of the city that overall enrollment figures for the CPS are down.

It is a sobering reality for many parents when looking at the options they have for education in Chicago. You can apply and fight for a spot at a school where there are already too many applicants versus spots. And if you happen to get the coveted enrollment for your child, depending on where you live in the city, you could spend a good majority of time just trying to get them to and from school. And then you have to do the same song and dance for middle and high school—nothing is totally set in stone. Or you could send them to private school, but that includes applications and hefty costs that can get out of hand if you have multiple children let alone one child. Or you can pack it up and move to a suburb that has a better school system.

The two key factors in all these options though is time and money, and many parents in Chicago do not have much access to either. And so families that can’t afford these options have to settle for overcrowded schools and overworked teachers while those that can afford other options move on to a better quality of education, furthering the disparity on both an economic and educational level. Not to mention it affects the cultural diversity as well, making it difficult for children to interact with others from different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. So not only are we cheating a massive amount of students out of the best education possible, we are cheating them out of basic human interaction and development skills. The only option for many in the city is to send their child to a privately funded charter, which at the end of the day just twists the knife currently protruding out of the gaping wounds of the CPS budget even more.

Despite all the negative news around the CPS, there is some positive change to report, mainly due to the hard work of the teachers and faculty at many CPS schools. The CPS released their school-by-school performance policy level report for the 2013-2014 School Year, which had the highest percent of schools in good standing since the policy was implemented five years ago. Sixty percent of schools are in good standing, which is a five percent increase compared to last year's report. The elementary school level really seems to shine with five Level 1 schools receiving 100 percent on the performance policy compared to the high school school level, which only had two schools meeting the same criteria.

Not all of the top schools are selective enrollment. For example, Lázaro Cárdenas Elementary School in Little Village is a neighborhood school in an overall lower income area with the majority of students enrolled qualifying as low income. Although it only serves Pre-K-3, it has a higher number of students enrolled than many of the lowest scoring elementary schools that service more grades (Pre-K-8.) Despite these odds it still received a 100 percent rating which shows that on a school level, something is working right.

CPS needs to take examples of excellence like this, focus and figure out how translate it across the board. With the school district's pledge not to close any more schools in at least the next five years due to academic or enrollment performance, hopefully the focus will be dealing with overcrowding and finding proper room for a learning environment and seeking guidance from positive examples in order to keep (or gain) parents interest in having their child attend a CPS school. That of course is the ideal situation. The Sun-Times reports that already the CPS is trying to find ways around that promise, mainly citing the ability to close schools “due to a safety hazard presented by the physical condition of the school,” whatever those parameters may be. The Chicago Teachers Union have already responded with their disgust of the promise stating that the "CPS breaks more promises, tells more lies." For the students and parents affected by all of this, it continues to be two steps forward and three steps back.

If you have more questions or just want to discuss the issues surrounding students leaving the CPS, Steve Bogira is hosting an "Ask Me Anything" on Reddit tomorrow morning from 10 a.m. to noon. He will be discussing his Reader article in more detail. To submit questions in advance either email them to askmeanything@chicagoreader.com or ask on Twitter by using the tag #bogiraAMA.