"Yeah, she thought Chicago schools were still legally segregated. That was around 2003."
June 30, 2012 8:19 AM   Subscribe

Jonathan Kozol wrote a book about this.

And I work at a HS in NYC- 70% black/African-American, 27% Hispanic, 3% other, other including Asian, South East Asian, Caucasian, etc. One white girl has attended there in the 10 years I've worked there.

It exists, for sure.
posted by bquarters at 8:30 AM on June 30, 2012

Really interesting comments these kids made. Too bad they just chose college-bound students, though. I guess they were looking for more "articulate" subjects, but I think you'd get some pretty hard-hitting comments if you talked to some younger students who were headed for the dropout population.

There are a lot of schools that are Black, Latino, or Black/Latino; and there are a lot of schools that are almost exclusively White (some with a sprinkling of minorities). We are back to Separate but Unequal again, I'm afraid. Nobody talks about this much, though, do they?
posted by kozad at 8:30 AM on June 30, 2012

A lot of what the students noticed was not specifically race but money -- the predominately white schools have better equipment and teachers. Does Illinois not have a "Robin Hood" tax plan to redistribute some education tax dollars from wealthier areas to poorer areas? I've always assumed most US public schools are funded there property tax, and that most states have a similar recapture program -- is that not true?
posted by Houstonian at 8:38 AM on June 30, 2012

Chicago's schools reflect the city, and the city is among the most sharply segregated in the country. I'd say there's a lot worth talking about beyond these schools.
posted by trackofalljades at 9:05 AM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

This breaks my heart...I was close to a student who was applying for the magnet high schools in Chicago this past year. There are like 10 or 11 high schools that you can apply to get into, and they are certainly regarded as the best schools in the city. Competition is very intense - and it is only getting worse, because a recent legal ruling opened up the magnet schools to the nearby municipalities of Cicero and Berwyn, which added something like 10,000 applications to the pool this year alone. It is all based on a test so obviously if your local elementary school wasn't great you are at a disadvantage to go to a good high school.

If you don't get into a magnet then you have to go to your neighborhood school and uh, well this article mentions that the neighborhood schools are not nearly as well funded and maintained as the magnets. Actually many of them are outright dangerous, I worked with a lot of graduates of CPS neighborhood schools and they said that weapons were completely common to be carried and used.

And somehow this is ok, the fact that so many schools in certain areas (South Side, West Side) are horribly neglected is NOT something many people are willing to talk about or care about. A lot of people who live on the North Side are totally content to ignore the South Side altogether, or at best, get really excited about how open-minded they are about gentrifying Pilsen. Lots of people are willing to use the excuse that "it's not safe" to go to some area or another and it's like, how would you know you don't ever seem to have been there.

Like if I have one more person tell me that Arturo's Tacos are the best tacos in the city I might lose my mind because NO. Go to Little Village and eat on 26th street and you will not get stabbed, people will probably be nice to you and treat you well because you are patronizing their business, and also you will no longer be plagued by your horrible horrible misconception that tacos can only be enjoyed while drunk on the edge of Wicker Park and also maybe you will realize that you are limiting yourself in so many ways from the amazing things that Chicago has to offer, which isn't just about the food but the fact that there are entire communities all over the city which are filled with people who have a lot going on and just because they aren't exactly like you doesn't mean that you get to ignore them and the schools they go to and the roads in front of their houses and you know I moved here from Detroit but at least we all talked about the racism, at least we acknowledged how it destroyed that area, here people are like, "oh it's fine that we have clear dividing lines and how can I get rid of those projects, I'd really like to build condos there?" and I love this city, I don't want to break it.

This article makes it so clear that we are breaking it.
posted by newg at 9:10 AM on June 30, 2012 [18 favorites]

As a CPS parent who gets involved in a lot of budget discussions, I can offer some educated guesses on why the predominately white schools have better equipment, etc.

1) Chicago is still a very segregated city, period. It's shameful and has been very slow to change. (See more about the history of racial segregation in Chicago here and here, including the histories of redlining, steering and using the Eisenhower Expressway as a "racial fence".) Neighborhood diversity here is strongly tied to socioeconomic class.

2) Poorer neighborhoods that have more safety problems and more overcrowded schools need to spend the money that they are given differently than the wealthier neighborhoods. They have less money to spend on "extras" like classroom aides, new playgrounds, etc. They don't have the space for a library, or science lab, and sometimes not even for a cafeteria (kids eat at their desks.) Many cannot afford to offer kindergarten or after care (and, up until a recent decision, Chicago had one of the shortest school days/years in the country, which leaves kids unsupervised if parents are working and cannot afford to pay for extra care.)

3) Neighborhood schools which have a parent population that has any disposable income will engage those parents (through "Friends of.." organizations) to raise extra funds and write grants for the school. This extra money can go a long way in providing better equipment, etc.

4) Working in any CPS school is very, very difficult. Absolutely more so in neighborhood schools which are overcrowded and situated in unsafe neighborhoods. Attracting highly qualified teachers who do the "extras" (run an After School program, etc.) is difficult because those teachers have choices.

5) CPS tried to address this problem by forming lotteries for more desirable magnet schools, selective-enrollment schools, and so on. They used to use race as a way to determine quotas for being able to give kids from minority schools access to better schools, and bus them there. The ability to do that was struck down and now they use a neighborhood "tier" system based on socioeconomic status. The work of navigating the lottery and SEES testing system has to begin before your child is in kindergarten for the best chance of getting them into a "better" school. The information about how to do this changes yearly, has shifted to being mostly online, and tips/tricks for figuring it out are passed around between more experienced parents to less experienced parents. Having done this for my child, I can tell you that it is almost as complicated as applying for colleges, with less control over the outcomes. Families without a parent or advocate who is willing to do the research on schools, the work of figuring this out, the attending of the school fairs which outline the changes, etc.? They are out of luck. If they can't move or pay for private school, they have one option...the neighborhood school.

6) If you do, by work and luck, get your child into a "better" school, there is a large possibility that this school is not located anywhere near where you live. You must find some way to get them there and back safely every day. There is the school bus system (which is not available to kindergarteners, so remember the thing about having to get this figured out by kindergarten to have your best chance of getting in?) If you get your kindergartener to a "better school" far away, you must drive them or, if you don't have a car, you must accompany them on public transit. If you have to be at work, you must find someone else to take them and pick them up. The logistics of transportation is a big barrier to school desegregation here.

Even for affluent, highly-educated Chicagoans with access to a computer, a car, and at least one family who can do the work of figuring out the system and transport the child? This system is complicated. There is actually an industry in Chicago of consultants who help parents (who can afford to pay the fees) figure the system out. The blog CPSObsessed gives a lot of insight into the thoughts and strategies of the mostly more socioeconomically stable, higher educated parents who are navigating all of this.

TL:DR It's complicated and systemic. Yes, separate but unequal, and that is our shame in Chicago.
posted by jeanmari at 9:23 AM on June 30, 2012 [12 favorites]

Oh yeah! And what newg said, after you get it all figured out for elementary school, it begins all over again for high school....but with less choices, and competing against the kids whose parents sent them to private school for elementary school as well! See the article here for the scoop on the high school competition.
posted by jeanmari at 9:28 AM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Neighborhood schools which have a parent population that has any disposable income will engage those parents (through "Friends of.." organizations) to raise extra funds and write grants for the school. This extra money can go a long way in providing better equipment, etc.

Yeah, here in the Austin school district where I live and my wife works, these "friends of" organizations are a major reason for school inequality.

As I understand it, grants and donations have to be used for "extras," and can't be used towards the school's basic day-to-day operating budget. But this rule doesn't help as much as you might think. A lot of the things that are classified as "extras" here, I would argue that they should be part of the school's basic mission: tutoring for struggling students, field trips, art or music programs, etc etc etc.

Most perniciously, my understanding is that grants and donations here can be used to pay for tutoring which helps students pass No Child Left Behind-mandated standardized tests. Which means that in neighborhoods with less money and parental involvement, the schools are hit harder by NCLB, and have to put more time and effort into dodges to keep from being labeled as "failing" and shut down. It's a big disruption that schools with well-off and well-organized parents just don't have to face.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:44 AM on June 30, 2012

The CPS Friends of... Organizations can spend the funds on almost ANYTHING. Most recently, a neighborhood parent was able to help secure a $100K grant to kickstart the school's extension of kindergarten from a half day to a full day. A local magnet school that I'm familiar with funds most of its extra arts and music programs through fundraising and grants. "Friends of" organizations here can fund raise for extra aides in the classroom, equipment, books, even establish funds large enough where the annuities cover ongoing expenses (like an additional teacher, etc.)

The schools that have parents who can afford to (money, time, language skills, and self-confidence) to be involved definitely have better resources and better schools. Being involved in the improvements at your neighborhood school is a full-time volunteer job for some parents who don't have to work.

It's about race AND class.
posted by jeanmari at 10:25 AM on June 30, 2012

Go to Little Village and eat on 26th street and you will not get stabbed, people will probably be nice to you and treat you well because you are patronizing their business

Truth. I live in Little Village. Just ate at a tiny place two blocks away from me last night with absolutely delicious tacos (meat choices included goat, brains, tongue, and tripe, along with several tamer options) and aguas frescas that I probably would have never known even existed if I didn't live here. When I told people I was moving to Little Village, the immediate reaction was, unjokingly, "you know you're going to get stabbed, right?"
posted by phunniemee at 10:31 AM on June 30, 2012

Why can't an all-black (or all-Latino) school be as "good" as an all-white school? Do good schools make good students or do good students make good schools?
posted by ferdinand.bardamu at 11:29 AM on June 30, 2012

Who said that?

There's absolutely no causal relationship between race and school quality. The actual situation is more complicated, but it looks something like this:
  1. School funding in Chicago is fundamentally unequal, in such a way that only rich neighborhoods get good neighborhood schools.
  2. Chicago has a long history of racism, such that black families are overwhelmingly likely to be poor.
  3. So black kids are more likely to be born into families in poor neighborhoods, and more likely to go to lousy schools, and more likely to stay poor as adults, and the cycle repeats.
If Chicago had a larger black middle class, or more egalitarian school funding, (or, ideally, both), you would absolutely see good majority-black schools. As is, there are some — but not anywhere near enough.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:35 PM on June 30, 2012

Ok. So why can't schools in poor neighborhoods with students from poor families be good schools? How much funding per student does it take to create a good school?
posted by ferdinand.bardamu at 12:39 PM on June 30, 2012

An all Latino or all Black school CAN be as good (or better!) than many white schools! But the problems in Chicago are about race as a symptom of segregation that leads to fewer socioeconomic opportunities. So, success in schools can be tied closer to class, but its hard to separate race from class in Chicago. Does that make sense?

In Chicago, which has a history of segregation that effects most everything from your address to your employment opportunities, race in schools has become a shorthand for the likelihood that the systems that surround you set you up for success in school.

Do your parents speak English? Do they have the confidence and cultural savvy to know how to advocate for you in the system? How was their education? Do they have enough of their own schooling to be able to help you with your homework, do they have enough English to help read your homework? Are your parents (or is a regular parental figure) able to be around to help you learn self-discipline, self-regulation, etc.? Does your family and culture prioritize education and educational activities that would help supplement the school? Does your family feel welcome to volunteer at the school, and do they have the time/flexibility during school hours to do so? Do you live in a neighborhood that is trying to scrape by and just keep the lights on? Do you live in a neighborhood where gang activity means that a larger portion of the school's budget has to be diverted to security and safety? Do you live in a neighborhood where no one has access to their own resources for mental health, learning disability or developmental disability needs so that a larger portion of the school budget has to be advocated to that?

Single parent families, dual income families who cannot afford nannies, ELL recently immigrated families, families who are unfamiliar with how to navigate the American school culture, parents and grandparents who had negative school experiences themselves...all of these issues can crush a school. Throw in the complications of standardized testing requirements, class sizes that are MUCH too large for the needs of the students, and so on? It is crazy.

Charters are not going to save us. In fact, the thing that many folks avoid talking about (and many people miss) is that charters, magnet, and ESPECIALLY selective enrollment schools can cherry pick their way to success. The worst discipline cases can be kicked out of any of these schools and back into the neighborhood schools. Many charter schools "don't do" special education and so they don't have to divert resources and time to special education or discipline/security resources. The majority of the kids that start at those schools stay all the way through...there is very little disruptive transience of kids in and out of the school at any grade. I once listened with amusement to the principal of Decatur brag on and on to a group of parents about being a high performing school while did not acknowledging that it was easy for Decatur to be academically proficient...they ONLY admit students who test a full year or more above their grade level, they have engaged parents who already been able to jump through all of the hoops to get their kids in, and they can kick out any students who don't toe the line. CPS neighborhood schools don't have those choices. They have to educate anyone who shows up and often do not know how many kids they are going to have in each class until the first day of school (or later) so they can't even plan ahead.

Now that the racial quota system has been replaced with the tier system, you can see that the once decent racial balance that some magnet schools had is being eroded. And even with the quota system, again, you have to have lots of technical access, language, savvy and persistence to get your children into the lottery or testing in the first place WHILE being willing to ship them on a bus around 1-2 HOURS away (2-4 hours round trip!) to get into a decent school.

TL;DR If I lived in Chicago at 51st & State and couldn't afford internet at home, IF I found someone at the local school to coach me on how to apply to magnet schools, IF I was able to visit the library when it was open and get online (IF they had working computers available), IF I somehow made it through the lottery and my child was accepted at Hawthorne? I would have to decide if I could send my young child (kindergartener or 1st grader) on a school bus for 2-3 hours with MUCH older kids every day or figure out how to get them to and from school on public transportation (one transfer). If I had a job or younger children at home, I might decide this isn't possible and send them to my neighborhood school: Attucks. You can see the difference in the schooling. But it has less to do with race than income.

Urban Prep is primarily African-American and is sending ALL of its graduates to college this year. But it is a selective school. It doesn't have to take everyone and anyone. If you don't toe the line, if you don't "make the grade", it you have special education needs? Bye bye, back to the neighborhood school for you. This is called "creaming" and it is common in these schools. It says it is "non-selective" but you have to have parents who are around/care enough to do the lottery system for you, and you have to avoid getting creamed.

Just another version of separate but unequal that disproportionately affects those who are poor.
posted by jeanmari at 12:42 PM on June 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

Ok. So why can't schools in poor neighborhoods with students from poor families be good schools? How much funding per student does it take to create a good school?

There's no bright line. What matters here is relative quality. White students are consistently getting a better education than black students. That's unfair; it would be unfair if all the schools in Chicago had their budgets cut in half; and it would still be unfair if all the schools in Chicago had their budgets doubled.

(Of course, there comes a point past which extra money doesn't help. If I gave you a million dollars per student, you probably wouldn't do much better than you could with $100,000 per student. I don't know exactly where that point of diminishing returns is. Probably it's much lower than $100,000 a head. But if we'd hit that point of diminishing returns, we'd be able to tell — because poor schools and rich schools would be performing equally well, and they're not.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:52 PM on June 30, 2012

Let me also say that, I really admire what Urban Prep HAS done...which has been to give African American males on the Southside of Chicago the ability to have an excellent option for a public education. I would happily send my son to Urban Prep over my neighborhood high school on the northside of Chicago. But I don't completely buy that the 30% of freshman who left Urban Prep between their freshman and senior year all leave of their own accord. I'm a fan of some of their methodologies with school and classroom management, but if they ran that same school as just a neighborhood school (no lottery, take all comers, anyone can switch into the school at any time), I'm just skeptical that they would have the same success rate.
posted by jeanmari at 12:58 PM on June 30, 2012

"Does Illinois not have a "Robin Hood" tax plan to redistribute some education tax dollars from wealthier areas to poorer areas?"



My wealthy suburban high school spent more on its variety show in 1996 (for 1200 students) than the urban schools I work with now spend on the English curriculum for 14,000.

(I will try to come back to this tonight to talk about school funding in IL and impoverished schools, though CPS is different than downstate.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:58 PM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Chicago's schools reflect the city

No. No they don't. About 42% of Chicago is white, but only 9% of its public school students are white.

If you're including private/Catholic "schools" in your statement, then maybe. But white kids in Chicago don't go to public schools.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 3:53 PM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

But white kids in Chicago don't go to public schools.

ethnomethodologist speaks the (hard) truth. Most white kids in Chicago do not go to CPS schools. My kid does (she's white) and her little brother will (he's black).

I work in education. I know the statistics. But we had a difficult time considering private school for our two children because of the racial issues in reverse. I told my husband that I did not want my kids going to an all white school. We wanted them to experience the diversity of races, ethnicities, socioeconomic differences, and everything else that marks our very diverse community. And schools aren't going to get better unless parents get involved and help to make them better. This is easier to say than do and, I won't lie, I wonder what I'm getting them into almost every single day and the oldest one has begun first grade yet. I take solace that I know our neighbors and their kids are very good kids, very smart kids, and they have been going to our neighborhood school. Our school is 75% low income, almost 20% English Language Learners. 36% is Hispanic, 31% is Asian, 25% white, and 8% Black. The families in our school community speak 20+ different languages at home.

The ratio is still not representative of Chicago as a whole. But it does represent our community pretty well.

It's going to be an interesting year at CPS. I know more than one family who was planning to sell their city house and move to the suburbs just in time to enroll their child in 1st or 2nd grade. But now nothing is selling and they are stuck here. Not many of them can afford private school for all of their children. The LSC races up on the northside this year were fierce. The union has the go ahead to strike for the first time in decades if talks with this administration break down. The school day will be longer. If anything, the poor housing market is forcing some white, middle class parents who normally would just move away to confront the reality of the city's public schools. Whether it changes anything will remain to be seen.
posted by jeanmari at 6:24 PM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

There's no bright line. What matters here is relative quality. White students are consistently getting a better education than black students. That's unfair; it would be unfair if all the schools in Chicago had their budgets cut in half; and it would still be unfair if all the schools in Chicago had their budgets doubled.

Ah, an egalitarian. Life must be a dispiriting affair for you.
posted by ferdinand.bardamu at 10:39 PM on June 30, 2012

I was a white kid in Chicago who didn't win the golden ticket to go to a magnet school. I went to a neighborhood school on the north side. Not even a selective program like Lincoln Park's - just a no-name neighborhood school.

Now, this neighborhood school wasn't as segregated as most of them are. We had (off the top of my head) students from Bosnia, Bulgaria, Vietnam, Guam, Germany, Austria, Poland, China, and India. But the school was still predominantly black and Hispanic. I was the first Jewish student to set foot in my school's doors for over 20 years.

What kept me sane were the extracurricular activities. I did debate, math, chess, academic decathlon, and the like. All of these activities were concentrated in a very small subset of students - it was the same ten or so students who did each of them, pretty much. And these were the students who fit the "magnet school" category and, for reasons like mine, just didn't get into one. These were also the few students who got into good places for college - UChicago, Yale, and the like. My school sent one person to an Ivy in 20 years.

But it was through these extracurriculars that I found like-minded students at other schools. It was frustrating - there are all these wonderful people going to Payton, going to Whitney Young, going to Northside - and they're all having these wonderful conversations and ideas and I'm excluded from that because a public school system decided to put all those people in one place! To me, that's the worst thing about Chicago's magnet school system - the segregation and division creates intellectual vacuums that go beyond race. It's unfair to the students who don't get into the magnets, and it's unfair to students who do.
posted by LSK at 11:36 PM on June 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

LSK, that is the scariest thing for me right now about deciding to cast our lot with CPS. This year, almost 14,500 students were competing for (roughly) 3,200 seats at the selective enrollment high schools. To even be considered for a spot at Northside, a Tier 4 seventh grader had to score 899-900 points out of 900 in their exams + other variables. Which is crazy insane that so much would ride on one year. We don't even require college admissions to ride on one year.

CPS has told us that they will be adding more IB programs to a handful of high schools, but that is not enough.
posted by jeanmari at 6:36 AM on July 1, 2012

« Older Alan Moore knows the score.   |   Why Johnny Can’t Add Without a Calculator Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments