1 of 4 African-American students stuck in subpar schools: report

SHARE 1 of 4 African-American students stuck in subpar schools: report

Janice Jackson, CPS’ top education official, points to recent research showing that African-American students in Chicago are outperforming their counterparts elsewhere in the state. | Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times

One in four African-American students in Chicago Public Schools attends a “failing” school, according to a new analysis that puts the number for Hispanic students at two in 25 and, for white students, two in 100.

That’s according to a report Monday from the education advocacy group New Schools for Chicago, which also says about one in every five schools overall isn’t fulfilling the promise of a quality education.

New Schools, previously known for charter school advocacy, took a two-year average of the scores — such as test results and attendance — that CPS uses to rate its schools from Level 1+ at the top down to Level 3.

It found that the school system has improved since 2011, when at least half of the schools in 62 of Chicago’s communities were problematic — versus in six of them now. But about 50,000 of the 381,350 students enrolled in CPS-run schools and charter schools still are stuck, according to New Schools.

“There’s still a lot of kids not getting the education they deserve,” said Daniel Anello, the organization’s executive director. “What was alarming to me was just the ratios. The one in four, to me, is troublesome as an African-American male.”

The bulk of the lowest-performing schools are found on the South Side and West Side, serving predominantly low-income, African-American student bodies that constitute 37 percent of CPS students. Austin, Englewood, the Near West Side and West Englewood account for a quarter of them.

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Those neighborhoods also experienced many of the school closings in 2013. The Chicago Sun-Times examined the 48 general education elementary schools assigned to take students from 50 closed schools. CPS had promised parents that children from closed schools would be sent to higher performers. Eighteen of those “welcoming schools” still hold CPS’ lowest two ratings, the New Schools data shows.

The Chicago Teachers Union said successful schools need stability, and many of the problem schools have higher than average rates of homelessness, special education and mobility — the measure of how many students who start each year remain at the end.

“It is not fair to simply compare race and [School Quality Rating Policy] stats and then question why some schools ‘fail,’ ” CTU researcher Sarah Rothschild said. “A strong team can handle the immense adverse socioeconomic issues that students in struggling communities face, especially when they know the students and their families well.

“The schools that made NSC’s hit list have been plagued by nearly 20 years of corporate education reform attacks,” Rothschild said, “and are located in communities that have been devastated by unemployment, disinvestment, disenfranchisement and still haven’t recovered from the 2008 housing crisis.”

Austin activist Dwayne Truss said he wasn’t surprised that schools serving African-American children struggle, given the additional challenges of educating poor children. He said he fears CPS might use the data from the group to punish the lowest-performers once a school closing moratorium lifts, saying “they’re justifying potential future actions, the way I read it.”

Janice Jackson, CPS’ top education official, pointed to recent research showing African-American students in Chicago are outperforming their counterparts elsewhere in the state.

“I want to make sure people understand and celebrate that and also give the district some credit for reducing the number of low quality seats from 160,000 to 50,000 — which I said 50,000 is 50,000 too many,” Jackson said.

“My goal is to have every kid go to school that’s quality or better, and this report just reminds that we’re not quite there yet,” she said. “If we don’t address the achievement gap with our African-American students, we’re not going to reach all of our goals as a district.”

She said CPS still has no comprehensive citywide schools plan — at the top of the recommendations by New Schools, the latest in a series of schools-focused groups to solicit long-term planning for the district with unstable finances exacerbated by shrinking enrollment.

Anello said CPS needs “concrete rules which everyone understands” for expanding, changing or closing schools to “weed out the political stuff that frankly impedes kids from getting a high-quality education.”

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