Report links housing and school segregation, blames closings and choice

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The Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance has released a report suggesting that school closings and the district’s expansion of “school choice” further aggravate the city’s problems with neighborhood and school segregation.

Pointing out that neighborhood segregation sets the stage for school segregation, the report argues that these reforms only serve to further stratify students by race and class.

“We’re setting children up for failure with the persistence of segregation in schools,” said Jessica Schneider, a staff attorney at the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “People with the know-how and means can navigate the system, and there are no overarching policies aimed at integration.”

The report breaks little new ground, given Chicago’s long-standing history as one of the most segregated cities in the country. However, the report aims to link the issues of school segregation, housing segregation and school quality, while taking aim at two focal points of the district’s reform efforts—school closings and the expansion of ‘choice.’

The report argues that school closings—virtually all of which took place in poorer black communities—help pave the way for more charters, which are viewed by opponents as privatization.

You can find a link to the PDF of the report on the Housing Alliance website. 

The lack of diversity in the system’s schools lead to children missing out on the considerable benefits of school integration, including cross cultural competence, educational equity, and increased employment marketability.

White parents and those with higher incomes often think public schools are bad or unsafe, and that contributes to segregation, according to the report.

“There’s something there with perception and actual quality that we have to look at,” said Rob Breymaier, board president of the Housing Alliance. “There are [few] whites in public schools even though they populate the city.”

Rod Estvan, research director for  the disability-rights group Access Living, pointed out that community organizations make the difference in changing these perceptions and redefining the “narrative of what high quality education entails.”

The parent advocacy group Raise Your Hand is attempting to do just that, by working against the systemic segregation of schools and the perception of that public education in Chicago is low-quality.  The group questions what CPS rankings and grades truly indicate.

“There’s so much happening in these schools that this narrow metric doesn’t capture,” said Wendy Katten, a CPS parent and director of Raise Your Hand. “The level might be low or a school may have high test scores, but that doesn’t really tell you anything about the quality of instruction.”