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Failing schools: Should we cut our losses, or fight to reform them?

Recent education reforms have encouraged closing many long-troubled schools. Between 2010 and 2011, 2,000 schools were closed nation-wide. But some argue this may not be the right answer.

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Brown, a burly man who roars with conviction, has focused the fight in Chicago on Dyett High, a sleek modernist structure of black steel and glass in the leafy, heavily African-American neighborhood known as Washington Park.

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The district announced last year that Dyett would be phased out: It would accept no new students and would be shut down in 2015. Enrollment had been slipping for years, but officials said the decision was made solely because of Dyett's sorry academic record.

"There are some schools that are so far gone that you cannot save them," Jean-Claude Brizard, then the chief ofChicago schools, told the local CBS affiliate. "There's got to be some hope left in the building for you to be able to turn a school around."

District spokeswoman Becky Carroll added in an interview that many of those fighting to save schools slated for closure simply didn't understand how bad they really were because they had no frame of reference for comparison. "A lot of parents think their kids are going to a great school," she said. "They don't have the context to know what's great and what's not."

Students at Dyett have no illusion they're getting a top-flight education. They've seen the classes offered by schools in wealthier communities: Chinese, Latin and German, web design, forensic science, microeconomics. Because of its small size (enrollment has dipped below 300), Dyett gets less money from the district and offers just a bare-bones curriculum. Students cannot even take four full years of science or foreign language.

When O'Sha Dancy, a top student at Dyett, went to a recent college fair, he said recruiters told him that an "A" on his transcript wasn't as impressive as a "C" from a better public school.

"I don't believe they're getting me prepared for college," he said.


Yet O'Sha, who plays cornerback for the Dyett football team, remains devoted to his high school. He has spent hours attending school board hearings, participating in community meetings and working with his peers to draft an impassioned letter to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, a former Chicago schools chief, asking for help saving Dyett. He even took his grandma to a sit-in outside Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office at City Hall.

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