Monday, November 4, 2013

School reform and the gentrification of our cities

The now-closed Alfred David Kohn Elementary, 10414 S. State Street in Roseland.
As someone who has long been involved with urban school reform, I have tried to make the case that current top-down, corporate-style "school reform" policies have more to do with the gentrification of cities than it does with improving education. Those policies, including mass school closings, mayoral control of the schools,  the misuse of testing, privatization (particularly the unchecked expansion of privately managed charter schools) and union busting have done nothing to improve schooling for the great majority of students and parents.

Rather, these so-called reform policies, combined with the recent global financial disaster, de-industrialization, and the destruction of low-income housing, have led to the economic isolation or massive out-migration of poor people, particularly African-Americans from cities like Chicago, Detroit, D.C., San FranciscoPittsburgh, and others. Former magnets for black migrants, including Illinois, Michigan, New York and California, all have had black population declines. Meanwhile, Chicago has lost about 181,000 African Americans over the past decade, a drop of 17 percent. In many cities, a shrinking black population is being replaced by returning young, middle-class white families and a burgeoning Latino population, brought in as low-paid service workers to support the new information-based economy.

On a recent visit to a south-suburban elementary school, I was told that class sizes in the lower grades had risen recently to 32 students in a class. I found  that many of the new students had recently transferred from Chicago following the mayor's closing of dozens of elementary schools in the city's black community.

Students protest school closings at City Hall.
When Rahm Emanuel closed 49 of those schools this year and slashed school budgets district-wide, he shifted millions of school dollars over to supposedly higher-achieving, "welcoming" schools which were supposed to accept some 15,000 new students. $16 million was used to hire hundreds of low-paid, part-time "Safe Passage" workers to protect those students as they crossed dangerous rival gang territories to get to their new schools.

This all turned farcical when it was learned that nearly half of the displaced students never showed up at their assigned receiving schools. Now many of those jobs are being cut back.

But the predominantly-black suburbs that border Chicago's south side have not received any extra resources to accommodate the thousands of new arrivals. Instead, they are being forced to compete for already scant educational resources, classroom space and over-burdened teacher time.

The underserved black neighborhoods on the south and west sides are becoming even more blighted and destabilized with boarded-up schools and few if any jobs for young people.

Some reform.

Two important articles having to do with these demographic shifts and accompanying educational changes in and around Chicago appeared in the Sun-Times over the weekend. The first, "School report cards: Dramatic shifts seen in ethnic, racial makeup," shows that minorities now make up nearly half the students in Illinois public schools. And of those minorities, Latino students have eclipsed blacks over the last 10 years as the largest minority, 24 percent.

West Pullman Elementary closed. 
Chicago demographer Rob Paral notes that the black population is falling, and blacks are not just leaving Chicago; they are leaving the state.
“Blacks have been so segregated, there are not many places where non-blacks move into places that are majority black,” Paral said. “It highlights the incredible black population decline we’ve had in Illinois.” But blacks also became the new largest group in six districts, mostly in the south suburbs, replacing whites in every case. 
For many of these poorer suburban districts the changes have been a factor in lower academic achievement. One elementary school in the Posen-Robbins district dropped by 130 school ranks in the last three years.

In the western suburbs, enough Latinos have moved into Maywood to push the Maywood-Melrose Park-Broadview School District 89 from 58.2 percent black to 59.1 percent Hispanic over 10 years. But in wealthier Evanston, home to Northwestern University, whites replaced blacks as the largest group. The white percentage there increased only slightly, but the black percentage dropped from 43 percent to 26 percent, making Evanston the only district where whites became the new leading group.

The second piece by columnist Phil Kadner, "Impoverished south suburbs could use a lift," describes the area south of Chicago as “Forgottonia.” The gentrification of Chicago neighborhoods, writes Kadner, has sent low-income blacks to the south suburbs in search of affordable housing.
Many of these communities are so short on money they often can’t come up with matching funds to obtain state and federal grants to rebuild roads, bridges and maintain their infrastructure. The problem Robbins faces is that if this development deal goes away, it will be forgotten once again. No jobs, no money, no future.
And they forgot to mention falling standardized test scores. Oh well.


  1. As I commented on bro Fred's blog today, wonder if the new arts school (it's a CONTRACTED school--NOT a charter school!) will be staffed with highly qualified teachers? Oh, I forgot--TFA teachers ARE highly qualified.

  2. So when this gentrification is complete, what do you think will happen to the charter schools? Will they follow the poor black population out to the suburbs? Will they fold? I certainly don't see the incoming yuppies sending their kids to no excuses, drill-to-kill test prep factories.



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