On the 59-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision to end segregation in public schools, Brown v. Board of Education, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) released a report claiming widespread segregation still exists in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and the district’s administration is doing nothing to address it.
In the 2011-2012 school year, 69 percent of African-American students in CPS were in schools with more than 90 percent of the student body composed of the same ethnicity, according to Friday’s report, titled “Still Separate, Still Unequal” (PDF).
“The newest CPS leadership frames the district’s current inequities as an inevitable result of demographic trends,” the report reads. “Their fraudulent attempts to absolve corporate reform of any culpability in our separate and unequal school system are an extension of the resistance that enforcement of desegregation faced in the decades after Brown v Board.”
Of CPS' schools with a student body that is 90 percent or more African American, one out of every four has been subject to school actions over the last decade, according to the CTU's report.
The study also reveals that fewer than one out of every 20 schools with less than a 75 percent African-American student body were closed, phased-out or turned around during that time period.
“The way CPS’ policies impact communities, the way they’re constructed, are racist,” said Pavlyn Jankov, CTU research facilitator and author of the report. “These schools have been systematically targeted for decades; African-American students are bearing the brunt of failed policies.”
In March, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett announced a proposal to close 54 schools, consolidate 11 and turnarnd another six, potentially impacting more than 30,000 students. But, while 42 percent of the district’s population is African American, approximately 80 percent of the students affected by the proposed actions are black.
The study was released on the cusp of three days of massive CTU-organized protests against the proposed actions. The Chicago Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the proposed closures, consolidations and turnarounds this Wednesday.
“The instability created by annual closings, turnarounds and layoffs have further isolated the segregated schools most likely to be subject to these harmful policies,” the report reads.
Jankov suggested segregated schools reproduce segregated neighborhoods, thus reinforcing a cycle that sustains Chicago’s position as one of the least racially integrated cities in the country.
“We have a cycle that will never really be resolved unless we implement proactive policy against it, both at the residential, job and school level,” he said. “But there are no signs that the CPS administration is looking toward any potential ways to reduce segregation.”
The report attacks several CPS policies that have “decimated predominantly African-American schools.”
According to the CTU, “rapid expansion of charter schools” reinforces segregation in Chicagoland and isolates already segregated schools.
Charter schools, according to the report, push out low-performing students and create a culture of choice and competition for youth and their families.
“'Choice' in education has its origins in maintaining social stratification in the wake of the Brown decision, and choice served to impede the very demands for equity that motivated the civil rights movement,” the report reads.
Jankov said CPS should implement strict guidelines that prevent segregation in selective enrollment and privatized charter schools.
“CPS just has made no indication that they’re looking at plans and policies for integration,” he said. “Frankly, the only thing they’re talking about is closing schools, and we know that actually increases segregation in the school system.”
Jankov said when neighborhood schools are closed, and “non-neighborhood schools” are opened, economically disadvantaged students become more susceptible to isolation and segregation in their classrooms.
Meanwhile, Victoria Chou, dean of education for the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said the lack of transparency in CPS’ school closure proposal is leaving most residents in the dark, especially individuals in communities that are already detached due to segregation.
“The data are not so transparent, people don’t really know what to expect, and folks in communities far removed from downtown are not so well informed,” she said. “It’s very hard for people on the ground to gauge what’s happening and develop an intelligent understanding of what’s going on.”
She said neighborhood schools are often anchors in communities already hit hard by the economic depression. She referred to school closures as another step toward dismantling economically deprived African-American neighborhoods.
“This is just digging the hole deeper,” she said. “There’s been such disinvestment and such poverty in these neighborhoods. The education system is so stressed.”
Chou is a former teacher and principal investigator for the federally-funded Chicago Teacher Pipeline Program (CTPP), a four-university effort to develop high-quality teachers for CPS. She says in her 34 years of studying and working in the education system in Chicago, this is “the most worrisome time ever.”
Chou says CPS administrators, CTU officials, parents, teachers and students need to engage in a more open dialogue. She said a process for education reform should include input from all angles. She also said the school actions disproportionately affect African-American students, adding that CPS needs to find a different process to address budget cuts and low performing schools.
“Every action is disproportionately affecting African American students,” Chou said. “We haven’t figured out how to support all children’s learning, by any means.”
A representative from CPS did not respond to messages for comment on this story.
Image: @OccupyCPS on Twitter