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District Commissions Analysis of Public Schools

Could spearhead a significant series of school closures

By Sara Beladi
|  Tuesday, Aug 23, 2011  |  Updated 8:26 AM EDT
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District Commissions Analysis of Public Schools

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The consultant study could boost the number of charter schools in the District.

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Things are changing in the D.C. school system, and we're not just talking pubescent voices.

When the District's public school students began the new school year on Monday, most returned to a school with fewer extracurricular options, a librarian with reduced hours and availability, and the prospect of a rise in class sizes.

The Washington Post this week predicted another gust of change will blow through the the system, emanating, this time, from the Midwest.

An Illinois-based company commissioned by the Gray administration will conduct a study of public education in D.C. that will help city officials decide which schools should be closed and where they should open new ones.

The Illinois Facilities Fund's analysis will reportedly guide what could be a significant round of school closures and an expansion of the charter sector.

In 2004, IFF worked with Chicago Public Schools -- then headed by Education Secretary Arne Duncan -- on the controversial Renaissance 2010 project, which was set out to close underperforming schools and increase the number of performing ones -- i.e., those that meet state academic standards -- in underserved areas.

The Chicago non-profit will take conduct a similar "supply-and-demand" study of the District. Researchers will examine the distribution across neighborhoods of seats in performing public schools and compare it with the population of school-age children in those areas. It will then rank neighborhood needs according to school performance, enrollment, demographics and building capacity.

Chancellor Kaya Henderson has called the study a potential "game changer."

“If it helps us to better deliver on the promise of a great education for every child in every neighborhood in the city, I’m willing to change the game," she told the Post Thursday.

Some public school advocates question the choice of IFF to conduct the study, citing the firm's close ties to the charter school movement.

IFF's vice president for public policy and communications, Jose Cerda, told reporters that those are part of the system, are rarely the solution, and that it would be a "mistake" to call their work "charter-centric."

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