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Deseg: Whitewashing Chicago's Magnet Schools

Waynelevin_cropBunches of districts are revamping their deseg / student assignment system these days, and many of them are using SES as part of the equation in addition to (or instead of) race.  The latest example is Chicago, which -- with the help of the Century Foundation's Rick Kahlenberg -- just rolled out a proposed new post-deseg plan. 

Unfortunately, many observers worry that the proposed Chicago plan is likely to be a big boost for white, wealthy parents and a big problem for poor black and brown students. The plan's diversity rhetoric is undercut by its likely real-world impact.

What's wrong with the Chicago plan?  It emphasizes students' proximity to magnet schools (the most popular of which are located in wealthier, whiter neighborhoods).  In reserving half of the high school spots for kids coming from different income brackets, the new plan gives wealthy families as many spots as poor ones -- essentially a second bite at the apple for families already over-represented based on test score admissions.  Last but not least, the new proposal relies entirely on community rather than individual family data and excludes any consideration for race (though consideration is still allowed and is part of some other districts' plans). 

Now I'm not a big (knee jerk) fan of school integration plans, many of which have done an incredibly poor job of doing what, well, the rest of society hasn't been able to do.  There are a couple of bright spots in the Chicago proposal -- a computerized assignment system, tighter controls over clout.  And with just nine percent white kids left in the system there's little chance of the Chicago school system being fully integrated any time soon. But at least under the old plans there were limits on just how rich and white and asian the best schools could get. The proposed plan gives lots of lip service to diversity but doesn't seem designed well enough to accomplish that goal. 

Additional resources.

Sun Times broke the story first before it was even announced and followed with more.
List of sibling acceptance rates (PDF)even before the new plan goes into effect.
Proposed policy (PDF) via WBEZ
Kahlenberg and ACLU lawyer debate merits on Chicago Public Radio
Catalyst looks into the effect of the neighborhood priority.
Tribune isn't giving much acreage to this for some reason.
8th-graders' shot at elite high schools better Sun Times
Beyond race Tribune editorial
CPS magnet plan must keep racial diversity Sun Times

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CPS created its second magnet school (Robert A. Black) in 1971 in response to significant agitation by South Shore parents, white and black, to keep neighborhood schools integrated and provide needed resources. (We were parents at Bradwell on 77th Street then.) At best these schools were about 20% white, but we were keeping certain neighborhoods residentially integrated.) Robert A. Black was presented as a great opportunity - small classes, handpicked teachers, and integration - to be achieved by making sure that the entering class was 50% white, 50% black. I'm sad to say that this broke the back of the efforts to maintain desegregated schools in South Shore. Some of us were disgusted enough with the whole process that we established a small store-front co-op school, despite our commitment to public education... I haven't seen any significant change in CPS strategy with magnets, etc. since.
PS The wife of Curtis Melnick, the Area Superintendent at the time, had her real estate license lifted for block busting activities the year that Robert A. Black opened....

In relation to the part in your story about Magnet Schools being in white parts of town. In LAUSD, a buddy and I mapped all the magnet schools in LAUSD.

http://hcc.hunsbergermath.com/2009/11/13/magnet-map/

I'm not sure how familiar you are with LA geography, but sure enough their is a huge concentration of Magnet Schools in northern LA --read white.

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