The Geography of School Poverty in Chicago

Across the city, most public school children are eligible for free or reduced lunches—an 85 percent average across the city, showing distinct geographical patterns, and 30 percent higher than the state average. The highest eligibility? It can’t get any higher than in East Saint Louis.

The Raise Your Hand Coalition, a two-year-old school advocacy group, just released a report on school overcrowding in Chicago, finding that slight overcrowding (by CPS policy numbers) is widespread, and larger overcrowding is still frequent:

The first findings of “Apples to Apples,” an independent investigation of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) data released today, reveals 76% of CPS elementary schools examined had entire grades above the recommended class size limit set by CPS in 2011.  CPS recommended quota allocations on class size are 28 maximum students per teacher in grades Kindergarten – 2nd and 31 maximum students per teacher in grades 3-8.

[snip]

Of all of the classroom grades that were over the recommended limits, 49% of the grades had class sizes 1-2 students above the limit in each grade, 34% had class sizes 3-4 students over the limit in each grade, and 17% had class sizes that were 5 or more students over the limit in each grade.

It also includes a great data set, with all sorts of demographic information on the 2011 school year, which I couldn’t help but use for my own devices. Below is a map of CPS schools, indicated by the percentage of students eligible for free/reduced lunches. Blue is up to 20 percent; purple, 20-50 percent; green, 50-75 percent; yellow, 75-90 percent; and red, 90-100 percent.

Obviously there’s a lot of red. The average, across CPS (including charter schools) is 85 percent eligibility. It’s a sobering number—statewide, according to the most recent stats, it’s 54 percent, and the ISBE average for Chicago schools using the same source is still 85 percent—but nothing compared to East Saint Louis, where state data indicates that all 7,000 students in District 189 are eligible.

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1 year ago
Posted by reader22

Regarding class sizes that are over CPS's own limits - this does not necessarily imply an overcrowded school. There could be multiple unused classrooms but due to a lack of teachers a grade could have too many students in a specific room. By closing such an underutilized school money is freed up (administrators, janitors, security, facility operating costs)which can then be used in the combined school to properly staff classrooms.

1 year ago
Posted by JMOlson

Reader 22, You are absolutely correct. Class sizes over CPS' own limits are indicate overcrowded classrooms, not necessarily overcrowded schools. Overcrowded classrooms are an extremely serious problem all on their own.

However this…

"There could be multiple unused classrooms but due to a lack of teachers a grade could have too many students in a specific room. By closing such an underutilized school..."

...implies that a "lack of teachers = unused rooms = school is underutilized". Which doesn't necessarily ring true either.

There are lots of reasons why the CPS formula might show a school as underutilized and classrooms as crowded and I'd love it if everyone contributed some of their hypotheses/guesses because it would be interesting to investigate some of the possibilities.

1 year ago
Posted by reader22

Appreciate the comment jmolsen - the two have to be considered separately. I realize if in the same building, class size is reduced it may happen that the still available classrooms will be filled and the school would no longer be "underutilized". On the other hand, with so many schools at around 50% filled, that will not happen in many instances I think. In any case, since so many people are marginally math literate, it would behoove RYH to carefully monitor how the data is used.

1 year ago
Posted by JMOlson

I agree. The numbers without any context can only offer a part of the picture. And then there is the problem with expectations and perceptions.

When viewing data, we have to have to be careful. We sometimes perceive what we expect to perceive. We don't do enough to question our assumptions and expectations or consider alternative explanations to first explanation of why data shows what it shows.

Our intent (RYH) in releasing the data is just that: getting data that is often hard to find (although it is publicly available) into a format where many people can look at it and release it. Then all of us, parents/educators/citizens/students/administrators/journalists/researchers, can look at it together and talk about it, ask questions about it, and perhaps rethink what might be possible for our public schools.

We want to gather and elaborate alternative explanations for what might be happening at our schools, and investigate some of these. Not just take what is told to us as "the truth," especially if own experiences with our schools don't match what we are being told.

Thanks for your comments and allowing me to write down some of my thoughts about this whole project here. I've had my head in spreadsheets for so many weeks now; it feels good to finally come up for air.


A higher-level explanation of the psychology of data analysis might be super interesting to some readers: https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/books-and-monographs/psychology-of-intelligence-analysis/art5.html

1 year ago
Posted by JMOlson

Did I just link to an article published by the CIA? Sigh. Yep. Blame it on lack of sleep and shallow Google scan for a not-too-boring article on the topic. Off to get coffee.

1 year ago
Posted by reader83

Completely agree that overcrowded facility and overcrowded classrooms must be looked at as two distinct measures. Lincoln Elementary is "grossly overcrowded", programs are being sacrificed, the size of the Library has been reduced and the auditorium has been called into service for classroom space. Lincoln is currently 25 or 30 students above it's maximum efficiency range number as assigned by CPS. Classroom size however is a different story, this year class sizes are very manageable, all k-6 classes well under the CPS quotas, with no classes going over the quota. Just goes to show that one school may be underutilized though it crams 35 second graders into a classroom while other rooms sit empty. Another does not have a room to spare but has classrooom numbers that you would expect to see only at private schools in the City.

Yet another reason for BBB to look at the portfolio and distribution of seats before any closing, consolidation or redistricting decisions are made, and certainly before any new building decisions are made. We should at least give her a chance to get started .

1 year ago
Posted by HomeschoolingNow

Principal discretion plays a part in class size. CPS may allocate the correct number of teachers based on their recommended limits for class size, but principals decide what grade teachers teach. For example a principal may assign more teachers to lower grades to keep those class sizes smaller than the CPS recommended limit, while allowing upper grades to above the limit.

1 year ago
Posted by cm

I appreciate the work you put into your analysis, but I'm a bit surprised by the data you selected to characterize your results. One could say, as you did, that 76% of schools had a grade that exceeded the class size guidelines. But why not cite a more useful statistic, such as that 75% of grades (K-2) are within the guidelines and 25% are not?

1 year ago
Posted by NEIL!

I work at northwest side CPS school, where the 2 kindergarten classrooms have 43 students each and 1 teacher per room! when the administration sent a request for an additional kindergarten teacher, guess what the Board's response was, " No".

1 year ago
Posted by NEIL!

Excuse me, but HOMESCHOOLINGNOW, you're wrong.

1 year ago
Posted by HomeschoolingNow

Neil,

But are the other classes in the school above the limit as well?

1 year ago
Posted by HomeschoolingNow

It could be that the teachers in the school could be reassigned to even out the class sizes across the grades.

1 year ago
Posted by HomeschoolingNow

I didn't say that principals have total control over class size, just that they their decisions can play a part.

1 year ago
Posted by HomeschoolingNow

Actually, I just remembered that CPS only funds 1/2 day kindergarten. Therefore, Neil, your school is probably actually being funded for 4 kindergarten classes with 21- 22 kids in each. Again it's up to the principal and maybe the LSC whether to offer full day kindergarten. I believe most schools that have full-day kindergarten are using discretionary money to fund it.

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