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Chicago May Close Worst Schools

June 25, 2004

CHICAGO (AP) _ Mayor Richard M. Daley announced plans to close the city’s worst-performing schools and replace most of them with charter and contract schools using private-sector money and ideas.

By 2010, more than 10 percent of the city’s schools would be re-created _ one-third as charter schools, one third as independently operated contract schools and the remainder as smaller schools run by the district.

The third-largest public school system in the nation, Chicago has almost 600 schools and more than 431,000 students. The changes have already begun at some schools.

``We must face the reality that _ for schools that have consistently underperformed _ it’s time to start over,″ Daley said Thursday.

Tim Knowles, director of the Center of Urban School Improvement at the University of Chicago, called the Chicago plan ``the most ambitious educational agenda for any urban area in the country.″

Daley began running Chicago’s schools in 1995 and put money into magnet and selective enrollment schools. Test scores improved early on, but have leveled off, and the reforms had little effect at the worst performing schools.

By law, charter schools are exempt from most state education rules outside standardized testing. Contract schools are more closely tied to the district and subject to state regulations such as school year minimums and mandated holidays. But they will be given the freedom to hire their own staffs, set pay, decide the length of the school day and design curriculum, officials said.

Teachers union members are not guaranteed jobs at the charter and contract schools. Union president Debbie Lynch said she would reserve judgment on the mayor’s plan because she has not seen its details.

The effort also could diminish local school councils, through which parents have a say in how the schools are run.

``This is wholesale experimentation on poor children,″ said Julie Woestehoff, director of Parents United for Responsible Education. ``Private industry has no proven track record for fixing schools.″

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