Chicago on Monday opened a new school year with 48 fewer public schools, fewer teachers, fewer support staff, a reduced budget, and an intense amount of scrutiny, particularly concerning the safety of students from closed schools, many of whom now must cross dangerous neighborhoods to get to their new schools.
It's likely to be a year at least as tumultuous as the last one, which was marked by a seven-day teachers strike and a fierce fight over the school closures. Acrimony between the teachers union and the school district is not expected to abate, as a budget and pension crisis looms, and as Chicago Public Schools begins to implement new Common Core standards and controversial teacher evaluation systems.
“The key question is whether Chicago can set aside the last year’s trauma and focus on improving teaching and learning,” says Timothy Knowles, director of the University of Chicago's Urban Education Institute. While he hopes the focus will be on new standards, improved evaluations, deepening the bench of capable school leaders, and innovation and “next-generation” education models, his expectations are not high. “Chicago is a theater town," he says, "and pension wars, big budget axes, and debates about the merits of [the] Safe Passage [program to safeguard students] may rule the day.”