By just about any definition, Walter H. Dyett High School has failed.
Just 10 percent can pass the state math exam; barely one in six is proficient in reading. The technology lab is so ancient, some of the computers still take 3-inch floppy disks. More teens drop out than graduate.
Yet when the Chicago Board of Education announced plans to shut the place down, it sparked a community uprising.
Students, parents and teachers have staged sit-ins outside the mayor’s office; earlier this month, 10 were arrested for refusing to leave the fifth floor of City Hall. The protestors have held rallies. They’ve sued the school board. A group of students has filed a federal civil-rights complaint seeking to keep Dyett open.
Their quest to save a failed school may seem quixotic. But it is echoed in communities across the United States, as a rising anger at school closures takes hold.
The bipartisan education reform movement sweeping the nation – and promoted by President Barack Obama – calls for rating schools by their students’ test scores and then taking drastic steps to overhaul the worst performers by firing the teachers, turning the schools over to private management or shutting them down altogether.