At busy board meeting, race back in mix in magnet and selective school admission policy

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Reversing himself, CPS CEO Ron Huberman said today that race will be a consideration in admissions to magnet and selective enrollment schools – initially as a backstop to a new policy that relies heavily on other factors.

Reversing himself, CPS CEO Ron Huberman said today that race will be a
consideration in admissions to magnet and selective enrollment schools
– initially as a backstop to a new policy that relies heavily on other
factors.

Huberman also predicted that CPS will wind up back in court, perhaps eventually the U.S. Supreme Court, defending the policy.

Previously, CPS officials ruled out race as a consideration. But at
today’s Board of Education meeting, Huberman said that once students
have gone through the admission process as laid out in the new
policy—passed unanimously—he will look at the racial and socio-economic
makeup of the incoming classes. If the populations of magnet or
selective enrollment schools are skewed so that there’s less diversity,
he said, he will adjust the admission criteria.

“We will do a gut check before sending out admissions letters,”
Huberman said. “We will look to see how many white students got in, how
many African American, how many Asian?”

In other developments at the board meeting:

•    Huberman pledged that he will close no high schools this year
because of safety concerns. The administration also presented the board
with detailed guidelines for closing schools or putting them on
turn-around status. Officials said that under previous the
administration, the criteria for closings—mainly under-utilization and
poor performance—were unclear.

•    During a long, contentious public comment period, a group of
parents and activists called for a new neighborhood high school to be
opened in Carver Military High School. Instead the board gave the
go-ahead to Chicago International Charter School to open  a school
serving students from 6th to 12th grade in the old Carver Middle
School. The activists opposed that move.

The change in course on the magnet and selective enrollment admissions
policy comes after weeks of growing discontent with the proposed new
policy. In September, a federal judge terminated the desegregation
consent decree that required CPS to use race as a factor in determining
who was admitted into magnet and selective enrollment schools.

For magnet schools, Huberman’s initial proposal reserved seats for all
siblings of currently enrolled students, set aside half the seats for
neighborhood children and divided the rest among students in four
socio-economic categories, determined by the area in which a student’s
family lives. For selective enrollment schools, half of the seats would
be awarded by test score ranking and the rest portioned out by
socio-economic category.

Announced in early November, CPS officials have spent the last month
testing the proposal in six public hearings and meetings with aldermen
and community groups. Many expressed concern that the policy would
serve to shut out black and Latino students, especially because many of
the best magnets are in predominantly white neighborhoods and white and
Asian students tend to score better on the admissions test.

Acknowledging those concerns, Huberman revised the proposal to reserve
up to 40 percent of seats for neighborhood children in magnets and up
to 40 percent awarded based on test scores in selective schools. 
Huberman could lower the neighborhood and test score rank portion to 30
or even 20 percent if they are causing the schools to re-segregate.

This policy will be in place only for a year. Huberman said that in
January he will lay out a more formal process for community input to
develop a new policy. He said that after thorough vetting by the legal
department, race might be part of the policy created next year.

By the time Huberman made his presentation to the board, many community
members had left. Earlier, Phil Jackson, executive director of the
Black Star Project, led a group of at least 50 people into the room
chanting “Educate or Die.”

Jackson and others accused the district officials of rushing a decision
and said that they were wrong to discard race from the admissions’
process.

School closings

Huberman will announce in January which schools he intends to close and
turn around. All of them will be subjected to the new criteria that he
laid out on Wednesday. 

In the past, these drastic steps were taken when a school was
under-utilized or had too many students performing below grade level on
standardized tests.

Now, CPS officials will look at a broader range of factors, including
value-added test scores, attendance and freshmaen course completion
rates  to determine which schools could be closed for poor
performance. 

(Also on Wednesday, CPS posted Performance Policy Reports for each
school
showing how many points they garnered. Schools that got less
than 33 percent of possible points are eligible to be shut down or turned around.)

There are also clearer criteria for closures triggered by declining
enrollment. A school would have to have both fewer than 250 students,
and be using less than 40 percent of its building’s design capacity.
Magnet schools and early childhood centers will not be closed.

The closing policy includes a “Student Bill of Rights,” developed
partly in response to findings from a report by the Consortium on
Chicago Schools Research
,
that found that many students fell behind after their schools closed
but that those in better-performing schools were more likely to catch
up.

Now, schools will not be closed unless students can be assigned to a
better-performing receiving school. If that school is more than 1.5
miles from a student’s home, the district will provide transportation.
The district will also try to provide extended instructional time in
all receiving schools.

The district will also complete a “safe passage plan,” with the Chicago
Police Department and the Chicago Transit Authority. Huberman pledged
that the plan would be shared with parents.

Chicago Board of Education member Norman Bobins pointed out that such
steps are easier proposed than taken. “It’s all in the delivery,” he
told Huberman, who responded that staff would monitor whether Student
Bill of Rights benchmarks had been met for each student in a closing
school.

Fenger High School

Testimony before the board grew fiery and disintegrated into several
shouting matches as parents and activists decried the violence faced by
high school students from the Altgeld Gardens area who travel as far as
five miles to attend Fenger High School.

“Every passing period, I’m paranoid because I don’t know if I’m going
to get jumped on,” Fenger student Deontea Jones told the board. “We
need a neighborhood school so we can have safe passage, and don’t have
to worry.”

The neighborhood lost a high school when Carver High School was turned
into Carver Military Academy. About two dozen members of the Grassroots
Education Movement (GEM), a coalition opposed to Renaissance 2010, gave
the board a proposal for a new Hazel Johnson School of Environmental
Justice that would share Carver Military Academy’s building, in
Hegewisch.

Cheryl Johnson, executive director of People for Community Recovery, said that since the conversion violence has increased.

In the hallway after the testimony of Johnson and others, Chief
Administrative Officer Robert Runcie said it was unlikely that the
board would grant GEM’s wishes. He said that the CICS charter school
set to open in Fall 2010 in the old Carver Middle School had been
vetted by the community’s Transition Advisory Council, set up by the
Office of New Schools to consider such proposals.

“CICS are high quality schools, and they have long waiting lists,” he
said. “A cross-section of community members have determined that this is
what they want.”

But Johnson and others said that since the TAC met, the situation has
deteriorated, as evidenced by the beating death of Fenger High School
student Derion Albert. They said it was an emergency and they wanted a
public school that had a local school council. Charter schools are also
public, but they are generally run by not-for-profits and have few, if
any, parents or community members on a governing board.

In the meantime, Runcie told parents, CPS is addressing Fenger’s
problems by bringing in motivational speakers, holding assemblies, and
increasing the number of security guards at the school. He said the
district had agreed to provide transportation to students who
transferred out of Fenger – so far, more than 150 have accepted.

But Rico Gutstein, an education professor at the University of Illinois
at Chicago, who helped write the neighborhood school proposal,   told
board members that “the transfers are not the issue.” He asked if they
would consider an emergency meeting.

“…Or do you want the blood of another child on your hands, because you refuse to hear the people’s voices and act quickly?”

Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart, addressing the board about an unrelated issue, also weighed in.

“Carver was built for the Altgeld community. Give the school back,” she said.