Wednesday, July 16, 2014

It was Duncan who launched Chicago schools on the trail of tiers

Rahm's closing of 50 schools, a stab in the heart for the city's black community, may be the very act that brings him down in 2015. Latest polls show that it's the mayor's (and Byrd-Bennett's) mishandled school closings, along with (related) pandemic gun violence, largely in those same communities, which account for his single-digit ratings among Chicago's African-American voters.

But the mayor's disastrous mass school-closing debacle (this according to a report, issued last month by the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force) should be seen as a continuation of a two-tier schooling and gentrification strategy that goes back to the Daley/Duncan years. Then it was called Renaissance 2010, a plan hatched in the offices of the Civic Committee, focusing on the rapid growth of privately-run charters and selective-enrollment alternatives to neighborhood schools. That same Civic Committee would later attack its own plan as an "abysmal failure."

It was the Civic Committee's chosen one, Arne Duncan, trained and nurtured by his predecessor Paul Vallas, who initiated the move to compel Judge Kocoras to get CPS out from under the desegregation decree. In 1980, the federal government had sued the Chicago Board of Education, arguing that the city ran a segregated public school system in violation of both the U.S. Constitution and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It was under that federal mandate that the city had been forced to consider race as part of magnet school admission policy and take other significant steps to undo decades of conscious racial segregation and discrimination. But Duncan argued that deseg was "too expensive" and that the city had already done all it could to remove the barriers of racial segregation. One of the great lies ever told.

AFTER DUNCAN DEPARTED to D.C. to push his opposition to "forced integration" nationally, Ron Huberman was brought in to seal the deal. Kocoras agreed and in 2009 Chicago's puny attempt at school desegregation formally came to an end (see Matt Farmer's excellent 2009 Huffington Post piece). Kocoras also halted the court's monitoring of the district's bilingual program which now is just a shadow of its previous self. 

Five years later, with Rahm Emanuel in charge of the schools and with no elected school board, minority enrollment is sinking in the city's 10 selective-enrollment high schools leaving the aldermen in black wards wringing their hands as election day approaches. The city and city schools are more segregated than ever, African-American families are leaving the city in droves, and the school system is on the verge of bankruptcy. 

The verdict is in as well on Rahm's school closings. Not only have they failed to save the system any money, but the gap between the tiers continues to grow. A new Root Shock report, by UIC researchers, shows public school closings have had a negative impact on students as well as parents who "played many important and varied roles in their closed schools"and now "feel excluded from new schools." Privately-run charters continue to get the lion's share of a dwindling school budget while neighborhood schools have to bite the bullet. 

Polls now show that CTU Pres. Karen Lewis will give Rahm a run for his money in 2015. There's a growing cry nationally for Duncan's firing. The chickens are coming home to roost. 

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