Next wave of desegregation

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It’s official, at least according to documents filed in court yesterday in the ongoing saga to lift Chicago’s desegregation consent decree. Efforts to purposefully integrate schools after the consent decree is gone are likely to focus on income not on race. Also, a battle will be fought over the quality of bilingual services in CPS.

Witness lists for both sides—CPS and the U.S. Attorney’s Office—that were submitted to federal court do not name any experts who will testify at the next hearing on behalf of race-based strategies to create racially-mixed schools. The hearing is rescheduled for Jan. 22. (It was originally set for the 20th, then postponed for President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration.)

It’s official, at least according to documents filed in court yesterday in the ongoing saga to lift Chicago’s desegregation consent decree. Efforts to purposefully integrate schools after the consent decree is gone are likely to focus on income not on race. Also, a battle will be fought over the quality of bilingual services in CPS.

Witness lists for both sides—CPS and the U.S. Attorney’s Office—that were submitted to federal court do not name any experts who will testify at the next hearing on behalf of race-based strategies to create racially-mixed schools. The hearing is rescheduled for Jan. 22. (It was originally set for the 20th, then postponed for President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration.)

On the U.S. Attorney’s list are 13 people, including CPS officials and two experts on bilingual education. Spokesperson Jaime Hais declined to comment on the witness filing.

The district’s list  features at least one expert who advocates for economic integration of schools. Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow for the Century Foundation, has written four books, one of which calls for affirmative action based on class.

Under the consent decree, the district’s approach to integrating magnet and selective schools was to use race-based lotteries or to set race-based admission criteria. But as the population of white students has dwindled from 17.2 percent in 1980 to about 8 percent today, district officials have argued that racial integration is no longer feasible. Desegregation costs the district some $300 million a year, and CEO Arne Duncan argues that the money could be better spent, especially in financially-tight times.

A recent Catalyst analysis shows the number of high-performing, racially-mixed elementary magnet schools dropped over the past twenty years, from 22 in 1989 to 10 in 2008.

Change will not be swift, however. Race-based lotteries and selection criteria will remain in place for the 2009-2010 admissions process. School officials have noted that they are looking at an income-based process and will hold hearings sometime next year if court lifts the decree.

Dating back nearly 20 years, the deseg consent decree called for CPS to set up and maintain the greatest number of desegregated schools possible, and to provide extra support for schools that remained predominantly black or Latino. It also required that CPS meet the needs of non-English speaking students.

Yet the quality of the district’s bilingual program remains a contentious issue. In court filings in March of 2008, the ACLU referred to a 2007 government report that revealed that as many as 3,000 students who needed language supports and services weren’t getting them, or were being served in inappropriate spaces such as hallways or auditorium stages. The report also noted the high dropout rates among non-English speaking students, particularly Latinos. About 40 percent of Latino students drop out, according to 2007 data.

Defending its bilingual education program, CPS has countered that the government report was written by someone who doesn’t understand large urban schools. The witness list includes two district bilingual officials and one bilingual education expert.