CHICAGO — The issue of desegregating Chicago Public Schools — a stubborn problem for decades — has re-ignited, with an alderman and a top CPS official seemingly passing the buck on the issue.
A new WBEZ report on segregation in public schools focused on what it described as an intensifying segregation in CPS under Mayor Rahm Emanuel. It details how millions of dollars have been spent on new schools and annexes in largely affluent neighborhoods while nearby low-income schools sit under-utilized, which contributed to segregation.
In the report, CPS official Janice Jackson said that segregation is "part of history of Chicago" and "not a CPS issue."
And Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), who represents both poor and more affluent neighborhoods, said she doesn't believe it's her job, either. She pushed to build a new elementary school in the South Loop.
“This is Chicago and you have to function within the city and I have to represent parents, a diverse group of parents,” Dowell told WBEZ.
“Right now, I have some priorities in terms of improving existing schools and solving the overcrowding at some others, but I am not taking on the entire issue of segregation, of income and segregation of races in the city of Chicago. It is not my role.”
Chicago has a long history of grappling with school segregation issues and political and educational leaders being unable — or, at times, unwilling — to come up with solutions.
In 1964, a report showed "there were more Negro pupils than whites in classrooms and overcrowded facilities" and black students were in "inferior school facilities," according to "The South Side," by WBEZ reporter and author Natalie Moore. The report suggested school boundaries be changed and faculty be integrated, among other things, but the Chicago Board of Education "did little with" it, according to Moore.
Moore also notes that the Chicago Board of Education kept putting out faulty desegregation plans in the 1970s, and CPS never implemented a rule from a state official that would have mandated that "no school may deviate more than 15 percent in its racial composition from the school district as a whole."
In 1980, the Justice Department sued the Chicago Board of Education, saying it had segregated black and Latino students from white students. The board and Justice Department signed a consent degree, with the board vowing to desegregate schools.
One way the board attempted to do that was through the creation of magnet schools offering what was billed as a more focused curriculum and open to children from across the city.
But those efforts had little impact, concluded a 1988 Reader examination:
Instead, it has spent a half billion dollars since 1981 on desegregation schemes that move thousands of children around on buses — but barely reduce the numbers of minorities in segregated schools — and on compensatory programs for segregated schools that board members themselves acknowledge don't seem to be improving minority achievement.
But in 2009, a federal judge terminated the consent agreement at Chicago's request. According to CPS "the district demonstrated substantial, good-faith compliance with the desegregation mandates of the consent decree."
In the ruling, federal Judge Charles P. Kocoras wrote that the Chicago Board of Education "for more than 20 years was dutiful in its commitment." The judge noted how changing demographics of the city school system had complicated efforts to desegregate: in 1980, blacks and Hispanics made up 74 percent of the student population, with 18 percent white. By 2009, the white school population had dropped to 8 percent, while black and Hispanic made up 86 percent.
Today, CPS is 39.3 percent African American, 45.6 percent Hispanic, with Asians about 3 percent and whites at 9.4 percent.
The creation of Local School Councils decentralized authority making desegregation "much more difficult and complicated," the judge wrote. Still, he cautioned the board not to be too satisfied with his decision to drop the decree. The case was about "the lawlessness of the Board's present practices" and "not about the whether the quality of those educational services was as good as it could be."
In 2013, 49 CPS schools were shuttered with Emanuel arguing that they were underperforming academically and that their enrollment decline had made them inefficient. A University of Chicago study found that 93 percent of the 11,000 displaced students had ended up in schools with better rankings.
The move "disproportionately affected poor black students," according to Moore. In "The South Side," she suggested that CPS could have brought back widespread busing to bring students from those shuttered schools to top- and middle-tier schools throughout the city. Ideas like those could help fix the segregation issue, Moore wrote, but they haven't been used.
"Instead of truly fixing school poverty and segregation in Chicago, district officials and political leaders avoid the problem and fail to provide meaningful discourse," according to Moore. "To them, the problem is too big; that inaction implies tacit approval of separate yet unequal."
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