Apples to Apples Release: Underutilized CPS Elem Schools Overestimated by 24% Overcrowding Higher than Reported

UNDERUTILIZED CPS ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS OVER ESTIMATED BY 24%; OVERCROWDING HIGHER THAN REPORTED  

 

Flawed Formula Categorizes Some of CPS’ Highest Performing Schools as “Underutilized” Placing them at Risk for Closure

CHICAGO, December 3, 2012 – In its second phase of reporting, “Apples to Apples,” an independent investigation of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) data, reveals that CPS’ school utilization report is based on a flawed mathematical formula and therefore has revealed misleading numbers related to utilization at elementary schools in 2011-2012.  According to publicly reported figures by CPS, 235 of 470 CPS elementary schools or 50% were reported as underutilized.  However, Apples to Apples researchers have uncovered a significant flaw in the CPS utilization formula that, when corrected reveals only 178 schools or 38% were underutilized – a 24% discrepancy.  In addition, schools reported as underutilized by 50% or more, and thus potentially under consideration for closure, are also misrepresented, with CPS reporting 20% or 92 elementary schools in this category.  Using the corrected formula this number drops drastically to 8% or only 37 schools.

The corrected calculation also reveals a much higher rate of overcrowding than reported.  Based on the CPS formula, only 14% of elementary schools were dealing with overcrowding.  However, the corrected calculation reveals that nearly one third (31%) of elementary schools were overcrowded in 2011-2012. [see below for side by side comparison]

The Apples to Apples investigation found flaws in the CPS space utilization formula for elementary schools: [TOTAL # of classrooms x 76.9%) x 30 students = ideal enrollment for any elementary school and ideal enrollment +/- 20% = overcrowding/underutilization].  The CPS formula, which uses 30 students as the “ideal” number of students per elementary classroom and 36 students per classroom as overcrowded is not aligned with the “recommended maximum” students per classroom set forth by CPS.  As a result the current formula calculates a much higher number of under-utilized schools than what actually exists based on class size recommendations. Using the CPS utilization formula to determine school closures, there were several Level 1, high-performing and gifted schools that were considered under-utilized in 2011 including Edison RGC, Alcott, Poe Classical, Lenart RGC, Brennemann, Chopin, Bronzeville Lighthouse Charter, Burr, Calhoun, Cather, Chappell, Talcott, Ward, Ryerson and Inter-American Magnet.

“I can’t imagine that CPS would consider closing high-performing schools based on utilization.  However, this astonishing illustration shows that not only are the utilization numbers incorrect, but based on the current formula, CPS could feasibly close some of its best schools if it does not take school performance, physical capacities or community stabilization into consideration. What this tells us is that utilization alone is not a good indicator of whether a school should be slated for closure,” said Jeanne Marie Olson, CPS Parent and Apples to Apples lead investigator.

The Apples to Apples investigation uncovers additional discrepancies between utilization numbers based on current CPS formula (30 students is “ideal”; 36 students is “maximum”) and an adjusted calculation based on actual average elementary class size maximum limits being at 30 (which then sets 25 students per classroom as ideal):

  • CPS reported 36% of classrooms as “efficient.” By contrast the Apples to Apples calculation shows 31% of efficient classrooms.
  • CPS reports 19% of all seats of the elementary schools in the Apples to Apples dataset were empty in 2011 (62,695 out of 328,050).  The Apples to Apples calculation reports that this number is only 2.7% or 7,467 out of 272,822)

In addition to mathematical flaws in the utilization formula itself, Apples to Apples researchers have also found significant factors that can skew the utilization numbers at any given school.

  • Schools can under-report their Ancillary (non-Homeroom) Classrooms and thus make a school look efficient instead of under-utilized.  Out of 83 SEES/Magnet/AUSL/Charter Elementary Schools last year, 38 of them (47%) under-reported their homerooms and made their utilization rate appear better than it actually was.
  • The CPS utilization formula does not take into account the physical size of a school or its classrooms, to make sure that all of them can reasonably accommodate 30+ students.

“Just because you can theoretically fit 10 students into a bus or a minivan or a Mini Cooper, does not mean that all of these vehicles would be an appropriate way to transport them,” said Olson.  “Likewise, the ideal classroom size of any classroom or school should be based on the number of students that the physical space can safely and comfortably accommodate for the best learning outcomes.  This is something that the CPS utilization formula does not take into account.”

Currently, utilization, not performance is the sole consideration currently used to determine the hotly contested issue of school closings.  This was confirmed by CPS CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett during a recent media Q&A where she remarked, “Performance has nothing to do with our utilization plan. I am not closing a school for performance. Utilization is something totally different.”

CPS Classroom Utilization: [click here for graphical illustration of data below]

 

CPS Utilization Categories

As reported by current CPS

formula: [TOTAL # of classrooms x 76.9%) x 30 students = ideal enrollment for any elementary school and ideal enrollment +/- 20% = overcrowding / underutilization]

Corrected formula:

[TOTAL # of classrooms x 76.9%) x 25 students = ideal enrollment for any elementary school and ideal enrollment +/- 20% = overcrowding / underutilization]

 

Underutilized

50% (235/470 schools)

 38% (178/470 schools)

Underutilized by 50% or more

20% (92/470 schools)

8% (37/470 schools)

Overcrowded

14% (66/470 schools)

 31% (147/470 schools)

Efficient

36% (169/470 schools)

 31% (145/470 schools)

Empty seats

19% (62,695)

2.7% (7,467)

 

Gathered by investigators as part of the Raise Your Hand Coalition, Apples to Apples provides improved transparency resources of the data concerning Chicago’s schools. The project is intended to help parents, teachers, citizens, and administrators more easily access data that may have important implications for decisions and policy-making that affects local schools as well as the entire district.

 

In an effort to give parents and other stakeholders additional assistance and current information on class size issues, Raise Your Hand has set up a Class Size Hotline at 872-222-SIZE (7493) where parents and teachers can seek guidance on the rules and processes set up within CPS to address class size issues and complaints at specific schools.  This hotline provides information on new processes set up this year requiring a parent Local School Council representative to be appointed to the class-size committee with CPS and CTU to study complaints on class size matters.

 In the coming months, Apples to Apples will release more data in an easily-examined, open source format to allow journalists, educational researchers, and civic groups such as Open City Chicago to examine and interpret it for the benefit of parents, citizens, teachers, administrators and policy makers. Currently, master’s students at the Medill School at Northwestern University are using Apples to Apples data to prototype an online app for Chicago public school parents to help them identify the best schools for their children.  The class is working with Catalyst Magazine to develop ideas for new content, products and services for Chicago public school parents.

For access to the Apples to Apples data on class size please click here.

About Apples to Apples

Apples to Apples is an independent, ongoing investigation that locates and synthesizes publically available data sources including the CPS Performance Policy report, Department of Student Assessment and the Illinois State Board of Education. Apples to Apples was created to engage CPS parents, Chicago citizens, and other CPS stakeholders in thoughtful conversation about the real state of CPS elementary schools through a more multi-faceted look at available data.  For a sample listing of sources referenced for the Apples to Apples investigation click here.

 

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