Dec. 19, 2013

Some questions we kicked around on this week’s Chicago Newsroom with Education expert and consultant Paul Goren an Chicago Reader Senior Writer (and 2014 Studs Terkel Award winner)  Steve Bogira:

Could CPS schools be significantly improved if, taking their gross racial and economic isolation into account, they became part of a “metropolitan solution” in which kids from the suburbs and kids from the city were mixed?

Despite the obvious drawback that selective-enrollment schools can “cream” more committed and better-performing students from the traditional neighborhood schools, wouldn’t we be better off if CPS had continued to build more Whitney Youngs and Walter Paytons?

Is it plausible that city and CPS officials have tacitly acknowledged that some portion of the student population is so far behind, and so disadvantaged  academically and socially, that they’re just being given up on?

For our last show of the year, we try to take a really big-picture of where CPS stands today. And where it stands can be daunting to contemplate.

“Enrollment is 86% black and Hispanic City-wide, and 85% low-income. And that didn’t just start. It’s been this way for years and years,” says Bogira, who favors a metropolitan solution and is guardedly in favor of more selective-enrolment expansion “because it helps keep middle-class families in the city, and it helps some middle-class families decide to send their kids to the public schools, which I think gives the schools more clout, and because I believe kids learn from each other, it’s better for the lower-income kids who are in those classrooms.”

But Paul Goren, Executive VP with national education consulting firm CASEL, says it’s important not to lose sight of the ever-present need to simply improve the schools we currently have. “Because if we don’t, then poverty, which is absolutely a part of the issue, becomes an excuse…we have to have some focus on reform within the system.”

For Bogira, though, the central issue is segregation. “Since government played such a role in segregation throughout Chicago’s history,” he says, “by backing restrictive covenants, by building public housing projects in the ghetto, by supporting red-lining and by subsidizing white-flight (with federally-built highways and mortgage subsidies, etc.), government should play a leadership role here, too, in desegregating.”

“Being intentional about a metropolitan solution makes sense,” says Goren. “But all is not lost in every single Chicago Public School. I think we need to pay attention to where there’s potential for growth. Even in situations where there’s highly concentrated poverty or racial groups that are isolated from each other, with…an environment conducive for learning, you can make a significant differences in the lives of kids in those schools.”

But Bogira holds firm about economic and racial segregation. “Kids who grow up in segregated schools end up living segregated lives.”

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About Ken

Ken's the host of Chicago Newsroom. A former news director, reporter and radio program host, he's also a past Vice President of the Chicago Headline Club.
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