Black Students Still Behind Their Peers in Chicago Schools

Many years of reform efforts and programs targeting low-income families in Chicago Public Schools has only widened the performance gap between white and African-American students, a new study by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research finds, writes Joel Hood at the Chicago Tribune.

Despite progress across the country, black elementary school students in Chicago have lost ground to their white, Latino and Asian classmates in testing proficiency in math and reading.

Considering the strides African-American students had made nationally over the same period, the news of this growing deficit was surprising to researchers, even for schools that are currently battling issues of violence, poverty and dysfunction in their neighborhoods.

“It has certainly been shocking to us to discover there has been progress in some areas but without equity progress not shared equally among all the students,” said Marisa de la Torre, a researcher on a recent report by the consortium that examined two decades of changes within CPS.

“You don’t really want to leave one group of students behind.”

Almost half of Chicago public school students are black and the vast majority from low-income households. So the news that there has been no real breakthrough for boosting African-American achievement is hard to take.

“It’s not the students’ fault. It’s our fault as adults,” CPS’ new chief, Jean-Claude Brizard, said recently in a speech to the Chicago Urban League.

“In order to turn things around, we must make sure that the students and their achievement always comes first. Not adults. Not politics. Not administrators. Not contracts.”

And it doesn’t end with test scores: as only 1 in 2 African-American students in Chicago graduates from high school. This number is better than it was a decade ago but it’s still not at the rate of other racial and ethnic groups. School suspensions, expulsions and disciplinary cases also affect black students disproportionally.

“Education is the civil rights issue that remains,” said Barbara Radner, director of DePaul University’s Center for Urban Education.

“The right to vote is one thing, but the right to go to a good school in your neighborhood is quite another.”