Thursday, October 11, 2012

The closing and re-segregation of our schools

As we move as a society towards total and complete re-segregation in our schools and as colleges and universities becomes less and less accessible to all but the wealthy, the Supremes are about to roll back even more of the gains of the '60s Civil Rights Movement. This week, they are preparing to stamp out the last vestiges of affirmative action at the post-secondary level.  Here's the way Justice Roberts is framing the case: "How much diversity was enough."

Ald. Ricardo Munoz opposing school closings.

Chicago's Mayor Emanuel runs what is by most accounts, the most racially segregated school system in the nation. His so-called reform plan centers on the closing of hundreds of more schools in black and Latino neighborhoods. Up until now, the arbitrary closing of schools and their replacement with privately-run charters has been a function of neighborhood gentrification. It has also be driven by a federal school de-funding approach dictated by Arne Duncan's Race To The Top, which demands that school districts close "low-performing" schools in order to receive federal funds. By "low-performing" he means schools with low scores on standardized tests, scores which correlate most closely to race and poverty.

Now the mayor claims he's doing it because neighborhood schools are "under-utilized."  This latest piece of corporate reform lingo is a way of blaming the community itself for supposedly failing to use their public schools. He would be better off admitting that neighborhood schools have been under-resourced and abandoned rather than not utilized. For the poorest and most racially-isolated communities, the neighborhood schools is often the anchor and utilized as a center for the distribution of services, community meetings, polling places, adult education and after-school programs. To close these schools, based on the temporary up and down swings in student enrollment is short sighted at best. School closings destabilize neighborhoods and endanger students as they are forced to move from neighborhood to neighborhood, often across gang territories, to schools that are ill-prepared to receive them.

Even his coming up with this wretched rationale has been forced on the mayor, partly as a result of  State Rep. Cynthia Soto's legislation and now a statement signed by 32 aldermen demanding that the mayor present valid reasons before any schools are closed and  that Emanuel’s handpicked school team come clean about what aldermen fear is a secret plan to close more than 100 under-utilized schools to help to pay for the newly-ratified teachers’ contract.
“The biggest concern is that the board will just hand down a list of closures and expect everybody to go along with it. That’s what they’ve done in the past,” Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) said last week.
 Ald. Rick Munoz has been out front on this issue. He's one of many I can think of who would make a great opponent to Rahm in the next mayor's race.

The school-closing issues has also activated many of the city's community organizations and parent groups and is one of the driving forces behind the demand for an elected school board.

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