For the Record: Teacher layoffs, race and enrollment

September 23, 2011

As the Chicago Teachers Union struck back at CPS over the longer-day issue Friday, claiming 115 schools nixed the plan in straw polls, it also sought to highlight the disproportionate effect of this year’s school layoffs.

Bearing the brunt of the layoffs are schools with more African-American students and those where at least 87 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches.

The union found that layoff rates were twice as high – 6.3 percent and 5.1 percent, respectively – at these schools as they were elsewhere. That is a matter of concern, because high-poverty schools may have fewer resources to cope with the loss of staff.

However, a Catalyst Chicago analysis shows that these layoffs are likely due to the fact that many of these schools are losing students.

Enrollment data for fall 2011 is not yet available. But CPS data shows that schools where 45 percent or more of students are African-American lost 4.7 percent of their students between fall 2009 and fall 2010. Other schools, which experienced half as many teacher layoffs, saw their population decline just 1 percent.

Similarly, schools where at least 87 percent of students receive a free or reduced-price lunch saw a 4.4 percent decrease in their student population. That compares to a 0.5 percentage point increase at other schools – which lost 2.4 percent of their teachers, according to the CTU.

Enrollment declines can leave students in under-resourced -- and in some cases under-performing -- buildings. A solution has eluded officials for years, but schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard has pledged to tackle it with the district’s forthcoming portfolio analysis.

Whatever plan Brizard comes up with is likely to be controversial. Previous answers to under-enrollment – such as school closings and phase-outs – have become lightning rods of conflict between the district and the union.