Chicago struggles to redesign neighborhood high schools

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Hyde_Park_Academy

In 1992, Hyde Park High School housed 2120 students. Current enrollment is 783.

Then – 1992:

For decades, Chicago has wrestled with urban education’s toughest problem–how to improve climate and achievement in nonselective, neighborhood high schools. As early as the 1980s, Hyde Park High School was using schools-within-a-school to give students more personal attention. In 1992, a number of influential reform groups began pushing small schools as a strategy to build stronger relationships between students and adults. To support the effort, the University of Illinois launched the Small Schools Workshop. Chicago’s earliest work promoted small schools for both elementary and high schools, along the lines of Central Park Elementary in East Harlem. Later, an $18 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation led to the creation of the Chicago High School Redesign Initiative (CHSRI). CHSRI supported the creation of 23 small schools. About half were carved out of existing neighborhood high schools. Two whole-campus small school efforts were new starts: one at the previously closed DuSable campus and the other at the brand-new Little Village High School.

See “Reform Heavyweights Promote Small Schools” Catalyst December 1992

and “New Small Schools Picking Their Leaders,” Catalyst August 2005


Now:

By 2010, small schools fever—both nationally and in Chicago—had subsided. Gates deemed the effort a failure. South Shore, Bowen and Orr reconsolidated their small schools, but most new-start small schools persisted. The three small schools that opened in the DuSable High building are still going strong. Little Village High School was designed from the get-go to house four separate schools, all of which continue to operate today. Also, two of the four standalone high schools survive: Chicago Academy High School, which trains high school teachers for the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL), and Al Raby High in East Garfield Park.

See “Small schools movement bypassed for turnarounds, charters,” Catalyst June 9 2010


Next:

Overall, the neighborhood high schools that small schools were intended to rejuvenate are still struggling. Many, especially on the South and West sides, suffer from sharply declining enrollment. Last year, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis and Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett agreed to tackle the problem of neighborhood high schools together. Their commitment, coupled with support from the Chicago Community Trust and the Ford Foundation, sparked Generation All, an effort to ensure equity of outcomes for students attending neighborhood high schools. A steering committee of 41 leaders, including students, has been meeting regularly. Generation All plans to award early action project grants this summer and release a new high school design plan in December. But only time will tell if the latest redesign can lift neighborhood high schools off life support.

See “Losing students, neighborhood high schools caught in downward spiral” Catalyst December 9, 2014

 

 

  • Among the many consequences resulting from the Chicago’s top-down, corporate-style reform was the death of the small schools movement and the muting of any real discussion of high school re-design. Now any talk about high-school transformation in the tradition of Chicagoan’s Fred Hess and Donald Moore or national figures like Ted Sizer, Deb Meier, and John Goodlad is drowned out by the drumbeat for over-testing, teacher-proof technology and charter proliferation.

    Education activists have been put on the strategic defensive by the corporate reformers and the power philanthropists (Gates, Broad, Walton, etc…) with the best of us fighting like hell just to save public education from death by a thousand cuts, school closings and privatization.

    But saving traditional high schools is impossible without also rethinking and redesigning them. Many, especially those serving low-income and black and Latino communities, still resemble factories or prisons more than learning communities making them easy prey for school closing and privatization.