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Chicago to Shutter 50 Public Schools: Is Historic Mass Closure an Experiment in Privatization?

'They are conducting a very massive ... irreversible experiment here on other people’s children.'
 
 
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As the academic year winds down, a record number of Chicago schools are preparing to close their doors for good in the largest mass school closing ever in one U.S. city. Last week, the Chicago Board of Education voted to close 50 of the city’s public schools in a move that will impact some 30,000 students, around 90 percent of them African American. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has pushed for the closures in order to save the city more than $500 billion, half of its deficit. "Rahm Emanuel actually does not have an educational plan, he has an economic development plan," says our guest Diane Ravitch, who served as the assistant secretary of education under President George H.W. Bush. Proponents say the closures will hit schools that are both underperforming and underutilized. But a vocal coalition of parents, teachers and students has fought back, warning that the closures will lead to overcrowded classrooms and endanger those students forced to walk longer distances to their new schools. We go to Chicago to speak with Jesse Sharkey, vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union, which helped lead the campaign against the school closures. "They are making a very massive, radical and, frankly, irreversible experiment here on other people’s children," Sharkey says.

AARON MATÉ: It’s almost June, and students across the country are counting down to the summer break. But today we look at Chicago, where a record number of schools are preparing to close their doors for good. In a controversial move last week, the Chicago Board of Education voted to close 50 of the city’s public schools. It’s the largest mass school closing ever in one U.S. city. Some 30,000 students will be affected, around 90 percent of them African American.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has pushed for the closures. He says the city will save more than $500 billion, half of its deficit. Proponents also say the closures will hit schools that are both underperforming and underutilized. But a vocal coalition of parents, teachers and students has fought back.

AMY GOODMAN: At protests and public hearings, closure opponents have denounced the plan as discriminatory for overwhelmingly targeting African-American and Latino neighborhoods. They warn the closures will lead to overcrowded classrooms and endanger those students forced to walk longer distances to their new schools. After last week’s vote, Alex Lyons of the group Save Our West Side Schools said the school district is putting children in harm’s way.

ALEX LYONS: I am very, very disappointed and upset in the rubber-stamp vote that was taken by the CPS Board of Elections to take our kids from the classroom and put them on the front row of killings, murders, war zones, seeing things that a kid should not see to go to school.

AARON MATÉ: The vote to close so many Chicago schools may be historic, but it already follows around 100 other school closures in Chicago since 2001. Ahead of last week’s vote, a group of Chicago parents filed two lawsuits saying these new closures violate the Americans with Disabilities Act and Illinois civil rights law.

AMY GOODMAN: To discuss the Chicago closures, we’re joined by two guests. In Chicago, Jesse Sharkey is with us, vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union, which helped lead the campaign against the school closures. And here in New York, Diane Ravitch is with us. She served as the assistant secretary of education under President George H.W. Bush, now a historian of education and the best-selling author of over 20 books, including The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.

 
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