no learning commons in Chicago

Privately owned public schools.: "In my view, over the long term the question of how linked schools are to particular places is a more important issue than the cliché debate over "charters" vs "traditional" public schools. In a zoning-free Yglesiastopia this might not be such a big deal. But in a real world where real estate markets are defined by location, location, location tying school access to location turns the school system into a form of private property. You can call a facility "public" all you like, but if the only way to gain access to it is to first buy your way into an expensive neighborhood then there's nothing public about it. It's just owned collectively by the residents of the neighborhood, in much the way that a luxury condo might have a fitness center or a gated community might have a golf course."
The city of Chicago is not building a learning commons.

The future of schools is not superior manufacturing, i.e., high test scores. The future of schools, globally, will be different from what we've already had in the short time frame of mass schools in the new nation-state. Innovations in technology and management of shared resources create new ways forward. To rephrase the innovative thinker Gar Alperovitz: if we don't want 19th-century factory schools and we don't want wholly privatized education, what do we do? The future could be about building sustainable and healthy relationships that contribute to the development of communities and cities. Families could actually make educational plans for their children and get services from schools. A learning services model could also allow families to access services from schools, networked as part of a learning commons. 

A learning commons has neighborhood schools as hubs networked across the entire community in creative ways to lessen segregation and possibly violence, pool resources and also specialize, as well as widen social interactions. I don't mean a special program only for sports teams or math competitions, or any team or group that filters kids out through grading, testing or performance.

A learning commons means changing to a learning services model where families can choose and request classes, as well as programs and learning services within a greater community while still having a local access point. It is not a new idea. My sister and I attended public school programs that were starting this in the early 1970s, one was modeled on the Parkway Program, the "school without walls."   And technology only makes it easier to do (except that the current factory model means we must push everyone through an age-segregated, K-12 process that tries to make everyone know the same thing at the same time to get a credential.)

The past 30 years of neoliberalism has shifted money up and away from the 99%. Schools in cities have been coping with testing, revenue declines, and the decimation of the working-class family. Now we have closed silos of separate schools with narrowly circumscribed tasks: kid's private data is networked but the schools themselves are not and the factory model doesn't allow that approach. And that restricts what people can teach themselves: it restricts what communities can do to improve their lives in cost effective ways. John Holt wrote about the problem of inaccessible public spaces in his essay, "Beyond Schooling" in Freedom and Beyond"For people who want to teach themselves things there are few resources available. The more resources we put into schools, the fewer are likely to be available outside them."  

This is Lincoln Park High School (Chicago, IL,...
Lincoln Park High School, Chicago, IL 
(Photo credit: 
In the same essay, Holt also says "There are simply no public gathering and meeting spaces." And it remains even more true today. In Chicago, 61 buildings will be unloaded and there are no plans for community centers. Social and spatial isolation and ecological dysfunction characterize our finance-driven sprawl, a sprawl that has few public spaces of any kind. And that actually hurts our social and economic life together. One of the hallmarks of poverty is this restriction to a geographic area with small ability to move in a society of enormous physical mobility attempting to compensate for a lack of social mobility or even stability. Elizabeth Warren discusses families moving for homes in good school districts and its incredible impact on our financial health in The Trap of the Two-Income Family.

Learning Commons Exist for the Affluent
Wealthier citizens have informal learning commons because they have the money to access a wide variety of venues both within their local communities, the state, the country and internationally.  Wealthier citizens can be out and around in their safe and patrolled neighborhoods as well as other fun places, they can afford extracurriculars, vacations and lots of gear. Those with more income can choose to attend private schools, homeschool or move to where everyone is wealthy and attend a public school. (They can also hire detectives to ferret out t heft of education, the mythical crime of access.)

Wealthier kids attend special colleges strung around the country in pastoral or historic settings where they can meet other kids to marry and then get jobs in corporations. Corporations build themselves green campuses and innovative buildings in which they can spend their time. Wealthy citizens also have the money to access many of the closed silos in communities: the hotels, museums (private parties), convention centers, as well as colleges and universities.

Public No More
Chicago school administration could have decided to close schools in the wealthiest neighborhoods on the grounds that these neighborhoods no longer need as much public support or that they can better afford to travel. How can schools be closed in poor communities while wealthier communities make their so-called public schools into semi-private fiefdoms? What about the property values of neighborhoods where schools close? Can school administrations decide these things for cities and communities? Are school districts really small governments? If property taxes can be used to improve your local school, how can a local school be closed when people there have paid their property taxes? Is the physical school completely owned by the public or the public system?  Have school districts tried participatory budgeting and crowdsourcing costs like expensive repairs? What regulations need changed to allow these neighborhood structures to be reclaimed and used by the people in that community?

The public school system was the original neighborhood development program and now it is destroying neighborhoods.  Community planners want to work through other institutions to achieve change: charters and healthcare (see Bernanke link below). We are throwing away one of the greatest assets to cities and neighborhoods by not grasping how schools should be public and community facilities that play a larger role than simply providing seats*.  

Public School System
That's two down: first public, and now school, both have been rendered meaningless in the phrase public school system in Chicago:
  • The public has absolutely no mechanism for input and are bullied with truancy laws that insulate a highly centralized administrative layer, remote from the people using the schools. Families have zero input, communities have no access, police and trauncy ensure attendance. This isn't a public system.
  • The school is dropped if it gets a bad grade. Neighborhood infrastructure, something many other nations struggle to achieve and what many worked and paid for is now just another asset/liability on a remote spreadsheet.  
  • That leaves only one word: system.  You now get a seat in the education system, supporting an even more remote cadre of testing quants and curricular architects uninterested in local stuff like buildings and access and families and kids.   It is a system, alright: a system of control and transfer of wealth and privilege at all levels.
*Truancy is measured in seats or spaces also setting limits on what can be missed usually with funding tied to directly to that, a legacy of using compulsory attendance laws way past their original intent and purpose. Centralized administration has grown remote and I note that Chicago is the third largest school district in the nation and it has mayoral control. See what's wrong with the schools (below) for more.

theft of education crimes

even more
FRB: Speech--Bernanke, Creating Resilient Communities--April 12, 2013: "For the most part, social science research has vindicated Jacobs's perspective. For example, sociologists studying community resilience in the wake of natural disasters mapped deaths caused by an extreme heat wave in Chicago in 1995. They found, not surprisingly, that death rates were higher in poor areas where air conditioners were scarce. But they also noticed a remarkable difference in the fatality rate in two adjacent neighborhoods--Englewood and Auburn Grisham--on Chicago's South Side. These neighborhoods were comparable by many measures: Both were 99 percent African American, with similar numbers of elderly residents and comparably high rates of poverty and unemployment. Yet Englewood experienced 33 deaths per 100,000 residents during the heat wave, while Auburn Grisham had among the lowest fatality rates in the city, 3 deaths per 100,000 residents. Researchers found that a key difference between Auburn Grisham and other neighborhoods lay in its physical and social topography--the vitality of its sidewalks, stores, restaurants, and community organizations that brought friends and neighbors together, making it easier for people to look out for each other."
Race-Talk | A Kirwan Institute Project: "History will soon define the ongoing foreclosure crisis as one of the single greatest transfers of wealth in the US from middle and working class communities and communities of color to large financial institutions and wealthy investors and speculators. ... 
Are school closings the new urban renewal? | Philadelphia Public School Notebook: "School closings are happening in urban landscapes across America, and Philadelphia is one of the most vivid examples. After years of neglect and disinvestment in public education, elected and policy officials -- with business elites at every level leading behind the scenes -- plan to replace these public schools with charter schools. But charter schools deflect responsibility and accountability by fragmenting the system, shattering it into too many pieces for the public to keep track of. They are not the city’s responsibility. Their performance is not as transparent, and they do not have to take all students.
Looking back, historians lament the devastating impact of urban renewal on low-income, largely minority communities and on those displaced. History is repeating itself in the process in the pattern of school closings taking place in other cities and about to take place in Philadelphia. These policies are assuring that there will be no institution left behind in minority neighborhoods, particularly institutions that we can hold accountable for serving all students and that can bind neighbors." 
The End of the Neighborhood School - Martin Austermuhle - The Atlantic CitiesWhen a neighborhood-based public school closes, children must travel farther away, increasing commute times and complicating logistics. It also makes it harder for kids to get to class on foot or bike, which Danish researchers have found helps students concentrate better. According to the National Center for Safe Routes to School, in 2009 only 35 percent of K-8 students who lived within a mile of school walked or biked, down from 89 percent in 1969. 
There's also the physical evidence that's left behind. According to a report released this month by the Pew Charitable Trusts, school districts that have closed schools since 2005 often have trouble unloading buildings from their portfolio. Pew looked at 12 school districts and reported that 267 properties had been sold, leased or reused, while 327 remained vacant. These buildings, says the report, "cast a pall over their neighborhoods and can be costly to seal, maintain and insure." (A prior Pew report also cast doubt on the claim that districts were seeing substantial savings from closing schools.)
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from the video:
SPENCE: Well, there are a few things I would do. Right? So one thing I would do is Baltimore City schools are undercapacity—If I'm right, it's something like 60 percent stands out as far as either 60 percent of them have—people don't really have a full house, or in general the system is 60 percent undercapacity, which means they have to shut down certain schools. So it becomes a zero-sum competition. 
What I would actually do is—if you think about these schools as neighborhood public spaces, one of the first things I would do is I would open them outside the school hours. Right? So a certain amount of time, it would be open for school, but then, after that, whether it's quote-unquote "training" or whether it's public meetings, whether it's gym space for folks to work out in, etc., meeting space, you have to transform these schools to institutions that actually meet the needs of those neighborhoods. Right? So that's the kind of infrastructure thing I would do.
Note: I think that competition is a poor motivator, that trying to replicate every resource at every school is wrong. To conserve resources and expand services, we need to build networks of resources while ensuring equity and wide access, not sameness. Whole communities need to make their spaces vital, unique and dynamic places. Start with equitable processes that empower people and build social infrastructure.
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