PI Original Ellyn Fortino Tuesday July 15th, 2014, 4:11pm

Chicago Aldermen, CPS Officials Discuss Steps To Address 'Resegregation' Of Top High Schools (UPDATED)

Chicago Public Schools (CPS) officials were in the hot seat at a City Hall hearing on Tuesday over enrollment standards for the school district's most selective public high schools. Progress Illinois provides highlights from the hearing.

Chicago Public Schools (CPS) officials were in the hot seat at a City Hall hearing on Tuesday over enrollment standards for the school district's most selective public high schools.

The two-hour hearing, held by the council's education committee, comes in response to an April Chicago Sun-Times report, which found that black students are being edged out of top public high schools in Chicago.

In recent years, the number of white students in the city's top four college preparatory public high schools has jumped, while the number of African-American students has decreased at those institutions, including Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, William Jones College Preparatory High School, Northside College Preparatory High School, Northside College Preparatory High School and Walter Payton College Preparatory High School, the newspaper reported. The city has a total of 10 selective enrollment high schools.

The newspaper's findings troubled Alds. Pat Dowell (3rd) and Will Burns (4th), the two aldermen who called for the hearing.

"When you look at those 10 high schools, it appears that four of them ... do not have a high number of African-American students, and we need to figure out ... how CPS is thinking through how to increase these numbers, and what can be done to ensure all students who live in Chicago have an equal chance to attend any of these 10 selective enrollment schools," Dowell said at the start of the hearing.

John Barker, the chief accountability officer at CPS, said district officials are "very open to discussing revisions to the enrollment policy." However, he said they "are adamant that we must look beyond these four schools that keep getting mentioned and ... instead look at the more holistic picture of all of our 10 selective [enrollment] schools." 

The newspaper's report came four academic years after a U.S. District Court judge ruled that race could no longer be used as a factor in the makeup of a Chicago public school's student population. Before the ruling, no more than 35 percent of a Chicago public school population could be white.

CPS' controversial tier system for selective enrollment schools was put in place after the Desegregation Consent Decree was lifted in September of 2009 "to ensure access across the city," Barker said.

Over the past three years, however, the Sun-Times found that the percentage of white freshman at the West Side's Whitney Young high school has been increasing, while the percentage of black students has fallen. 

Meanwhile, the white freshman population at the South Loop's Jones College Prep stood at 38 percent this year. Four years ago, the figure was 29 percent.

At the Near North Side's Walter Payton College Prep, more than 41 percent of the freshman class has been comprised of white students over the last four years, while that figure was 29 percent in 2009, the Sun-Times reported. And the share of white freshman at Northside College Prep increased in 2010 to 48 percent from 37 percent in 2009.

The competition is fierce to get into the city's selective enrollment high schools. Barker explained that annually there are some 18,000 applicants for 3,500 available seats.

The way it works now, each of the city's 10 selective enrollment public high schools set aside 30 percent of their slots for the highest-scoring students, regardless of where they live in Chicago. The remaining 70 percent of the seats are filled based on test scores and through CPS' tier system, which selective enrollment high schools began using for admission selections in 2010. CPS splits the city into four socioeconomic tiers based on census tracts. A percentage of students at selective enrollment schools are supposed to come from each of the tiers.

The tiers, which are updated yearly, factor in median family income, adult educational attainment, neighborhood school performance, rates of non-English speakers and the percentage of single-parent households and home ownership. 

The tier system aims to help level the admissions playing field between students from poorer and wealthier neighborhoods and ensure socioeconomic diversity in schools. 

Ald. Latasha Thomas (17th), who chairs the council's Committee on Education and Child Development, told CPS officials that "we feel resegregation is occurring" at the most elite public high schools.

Katie Ellis, executive director of CPS' Office of Access and Enrollment, said minority representation in the city's 10 selective enrollment high schools has actually increased since the tier system was implemented.

Minority representation went from 75.7 percent in 2008 to 78.5 percent in 2013, Ellis said.

"The tier system has worked to preserve diversity, but individual schools have seen shifts within these 10 schools," she noted. 

Ellis said the selective enrollment high schools on the city's South Side are not as well known, and not as many students apply to them. The South Side selective enrollment schools are: Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy High School, South Shore International College Prep High School, Robert Lindblom Math & Science Academy High School, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. College Prep High School. One of CPS' short-term goals, Ellis said, is working with South Side selective enrollment schools to improve their marketing, recruitment and competitiveness so that the "four schools are not the only option on the table." 

Additionally, the district plans to work with North Side selective enrollment schools to develop recruitment and outreach plans for highly-qualified, African-American students, she added.

CPS officials also said they would take a look at the tier system's six socioeconomic components, and whether there are too many or too few factors. They plan to do a review of practices used in other cities and recent court cases "to explore potential changes to the policy and/or tier formula," according to CPS' slide show presentation at the hearing. Another long-term possibility is to "move to a single enrollment system to optimize student assignment."

After the hearing, Burns said he does not think "resegregation" is the appropriate word to describe what is happening in the city's top selective enrollment high schools.

"I don't think it's resegregation," he said. "What I would say is that some of the selective enrollment schools don't reflect the great diversity of our city and ... we should be concerned about the lack of diversity in some of those schools."

CPS, Burns added, uses "socioeconomic status as a proxy effectively for race and it doesn't really align completely with race as a category. The Supreme Court has said that schools can use race as a factor, but it has to be very narrowly tailored and part of a set of other factors. CPS needs to do some research and take a look at that and see what they can come up with."

Overall, Ellis said African-American students are currently selected at the highest rates. But "at the same time, we recognize that the best way to increase the number of students in our most selective schools... is to focus on preparation," she explained.

Among other efforts, the district wants to increase the number of “highly qualified” African-American selective enrollment students through "continued investment in improving neighborhood elementary schools: IB, STEM, Personalized Learning initiative for mathematics [and] access to technology," according to CPS' presentation.

But CPS, Dowell said, has been "decreasing dollars to schools that actually have IB programs" as a result of the school district's budgeting process. 

"Your actions seem to go against the policy that you're trying to implement in these schools," the alderman told the school district representatives.

Barker pointed to various financial issues facing CPS. But, he said, "I know that our CEO is committed to a further review of the funding for those [feeder] programs" for selective enrollment schools.

"As we go further, and throughout the course of this year, we will be looking for additional opportunities to help fund those feeder programs," Barker added.

Dowell responded, "Well, as James Brown would say, 'That's talking loud and saying nothing.'"

Meanwhile, principals at each of the 10 selective enrollment high schools have 5 percent discretion in terms of admissions, Ellis said. Dowell asked if CPS would consider upping that percentage, to which Ellis explained there is "a lot of liability" with principal discretion, but district officials can "definitely put that on the list for things to report back about."

Thomas asked that CPS officials appear before the committee again sometime this fall to provide a progress report.

Overall, Dowell said she was satisfied with the hearing. 

"I think that they have a lot of work that they need to do in terms of looking at formula factors [and] principal discretion, which I really think needs to be increased. Five percent is not enough," she told reporters after the hearing. "So, we'll see." 

Stay tuned.

UPDATE 1 (5:00 p.m.): In response to today's committee hearing, Jitu Brown with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization issued the following remarks to Progress Illinois:

The emphasis on creating boutique schools or special schools while disinvesting in neighborhood elementary schools and funneling resources towards failed education practices such as charter expansion and contract schools ... has not improved education in our city over the last 15 years.

The charge would be to make sure every school has that opportunity for rigor so that young people who may demonstrate the capacity in whatever subject area it is ... that they have the opportunity to be inspired at the local neighborhood level. You're going to have lower numbers of African-American students enrolled if you have an elementary system that is based on test prep, a narrow student curriculum and a punitive approach to school improvement. Now, young people have younger and more transient teachers ... Many young people in the city of Chicago have experienced a school closing ... So what Chicago Public Schools and many urban school districts around the country have not had the courage or political will to do is be honest about the lack of equality in public education.

While it is noteworthy that Alderman Dowell and Alderman Burns are emphasizing African-American enrollment in selective enrollment schools, they need to have the same sense of urgency for protecting children in neighborhood schools and making sure those children are not underserved, because by not doing that you limit the number of young people who will be prepared for any accelerated or advanced program or selective enrollment school in the first place. We think that the emphasis in Chicago has to be on creating strong neighborhood schools for all children, and then from there you can talk about choice. I would hope that Alderman Will Burns and Alderman Pat Dowell put as much energy into supporting the community's proposal for Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School, to make sure that Dyett is a world-class, open-enrollment neighborhood high school, as they have selective enrollment schools.

At today's hearing, CPS officials said selective enrollment high schools on the South Side are not as well known as others, and therefore fewer people are applying to them. This could be the case, Brown said, because the South Side selective enrollment high schools schools, with the exemption of Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy High School, "are relatively new and were born in the period of school privatization."

UPDATE 2 (7:38 p.m.): Stacy Davis Gates, the Chicago Teachers Union's legislative director, provided the following comment to Progress Illinois in response to today's hearing:

I find it perhaps ironic that after closing 58 schools [since the election of Rahm Emanuel as mayor of Chicago in 2011], this is the hearing that Alderman Thomas chooses to have. Will Burns will have a hearing about this but won't have one about Dyett High School. These issues are beyond troubling, but this is one of many issues in which the district speaks out of both sides of its mouth. On one hand, it's saying that in order to get highly-qualified, African-American students ... that they have to invest in neighborhood schools, but again, there is this history of closing 58 neighborhood schools where predominantly African-American students attend. 

What the mayor and his handpicked board of education continue to do to the educational opportunities for thousands of students in this district is almost criminal. They know that they have to invest in these schools, yet they lay off countless teachers, they close programs and they close schools. This issue is not unlike any of the other issues that we've raised multiple questions about. CPS lacks a clear, cogent, cohesive plan to provide good educational opportunities to all of the students that attend Chicago public schools. This is a world-class city with subpar educational opportunities for all of its students. 

Regarding Walter H. Dyett High School, Ald. Burns is set to hold a community meeting on July 28 at 6:00 p.m. at King College Prep to discuss the future of the school, which is slated to close at the end of the 2014-2015 academic year.

 

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