A recent federal education report revealed that Black students in Chicago Public Schools lead the nation in likelihood of being suspended from school – multiple times.
“The Transformed Civil Rights Data Collection” report examined 2009-2010 national data from 72,000 schools, representing 85 percent of the nation’s public schools. Among other findings, the report showed that Black CPS students during the time period studied represented 76 percent of the school district’s suspensions, though Black students make up only 45 percent of the district’s student body.
The ranking put Chicago first in the nation for Black student suspension rates, though it is only the third largest school district in the country.
“The data portends a very disturbing picture,” U.S. Department of Education Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali told reporters on a conference call March 6, the same day the report was released. “Those that have been underserved for far too long continue to receive less than their fair share of our most important resources.”
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis offered a stinging response to the report.
“Students and their families recognize the apartheid-like system managed by CPS and this survey only provides further evidence,” Lewis said in a written statement following announcement of the report. “CPS denies resources to the neediest schools, uses discipline policies with disproportionate harm on students of color, and enacts policies that increase the concentration of students in racially segregated and high poverty schools.”
Academically, the report reveals that some of the nation’s public school districts have a long way to go before in preparing students to be in line with President Barack Obama’s 2020 goal for the U.S. to be a world leader in the number of college graduates.
Data on students of color being offered and passing courses in algebra and physics, courses the U.S. Department of Education identify as the foundation of “college and career readiness,” reveal education gaps that Ali said must close.
“We must ask ourselves whether we’re providing the opportunity for all students to even get to college in high school, and the answer from the data…is no,” Ali said.
The report steps on the toes of a CPS already facing flack over the latest round of school reforms that will see 10 schools dubbed to be failing or under-utilized turned around or consolidated, respectively, starting next school year.
As CTU continues to blast CPS for what the teachers union considers school turnarounds and closures that adversely target students of color, some faith, community and elected leaders cautiously support the school district’s decision. They support closing schools like Crane High School on the West Side and Dyett High School on the South Side. Both schools will begin a phase out starting next school year.
Crane has been consistently on academic probation for the last decade and CPS data reveals that 19 of 20 students there don’t meet state test standards; further more than half of the students don’t graduate. Similarly, Dyett has been on academic probation for the last seven years, two-thirds of the students don’t graduate and 15 of 16 students don’t meet state test standards.
A coalition of faith leaders, including Rev. Roosevelt Watkins, recently voiced their concerns about public education.
“We know that we need to see fundamental change as it relates to education because we know in Chicago our school system is failing our children,” said Watkins, pastor of the Bethlehem Star Baptist Church and head of the H.O.P.E. faith and community organization.
“Something has to be done. For us to continue to defend failing schools … is insanity,” he said. “If schools have been on academic probation, if schools have been failing … I am in favor of any bold actions needed to be taken to fix the problem. If it calls for turning some schools around, let’s take a look at that. It if calls for closing some schools and starting over again let’s look at that.”
But one Dyett parent said the school could do better with more resources.
Kitesha Reggs’daughter is a junior at the school and doing well, the mother told the Chicago Citizen. The daughter is on the honor roll and in a robotics program and her son, who graduated last year, received several college scholarship offers.
Dyett “has come a long way. … We want to save Dyett,” she said. “Put the resources in our community and we will be fine.”
School turnaround, consolidation and phase out started under former Mayor Richard M. Daley and his Renaissance 2010 initiative. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has continue it, bringing new charter schools to the city and purging neighborhood schools that the school district claims are not performing well.
State Sen. Jacqueline Collins, D-16th District, told the Chicago Citizen that while she believes some schools should be closed, she is calling for a one year halt on turnarounds and closures.
“We’re asking for a moratorium for the guidelines and evaluations to be transparent. If a school is failing and the kids are not having the opportunity to access to the education that they deserve…why would we want to keep a failing school open. But I want to know what the criteria is for the definition of failure,” said Collins, who is up for re-election March 20. “The determination should be made in conjunction with the parents and with the principal. But it has to be an open process.”
But Collins said that after it is determined that a school is not academically on par, it shouldn’t remain open.
“Why would you want to keep a failing school open?” she questioned.
By Rhonda Gillespie