Can the 2010 Plan fix the problems of poor-performing schools in the low-income communities of Chicago urban centers? Building new schools won’t solve the problem of inferior education in segregated Chicago. Good teachers with skills in their subject areas are the key. Smaller charter schools like the KIPP Academy in Austin might help.
Retaining economic segregation is the only way to ensure that middle- and upper-income individuals can flee the problems of the “inner-city””problems caused, the reform Board of Education implies, by low-income individuals who are not as dedicated to creating livable communities as higher-income individuals.
The fact is, low-income people in Chicago care just as much about issues like good schools, safe streets and other amenities as higher-income people. The main difference is that higher-income people have more resources at their disposal (money and power) to achieve those educational goals.
Attempts like the “No Child Left Behind Act” to solve urban centers’ educational problems are fruitless. We cannot run away from the social cost inflicted by segregation. It is ironic to consider that folks fleeing a low-income community to escape its problems are exacerbating the problem by taking much-needed resources out of the community.
All people deserve the opportunity to live in stable communities with high level public services. Money in Chicago is not the issue for high level services in urban centers. Millions have been wasted in the mountain of scandals and mismanagement at City Hall.
If all segments of urban-center communities have an equal voice in shaping future development, they will be able to help transform low-income areas into mixed-income areas and make sure mixed-income communities remain stable rather than giving way to the forces of gentrification.
Publicly-funded development can help decrease segregation in Chicago by ensuring that all segments of the community, regardless of income, realize the benefits of this growth, making housing affordable for the poor.
Which brings us back to Chicago Public Schools.
What can we do about closing the educational gap in poor-perfoming schools? And how can poor parents pay the extravagant “activity fees” with more than one child in school?
The Chicago Board of Education should pay for those fees. If a child is not allowed to attend school until those fees are paid, then the board is breaking the law. Parents can sue them for violating the compulsory attendance laws. Parents can contact their church outreach ministries to help them or contact the NAACP or similar organizations to help them file the suit.
Secondly, research shows that quality teachers are the key to educational achievement for low performing students. Nationally and locally, classes in majority non-white schools are over 40 percent more likely to be assigned to an out-of-field teacher than those in mostly white schools. Poor students and students of color get the short end of the stick on this issue. According to the Education Trust, 21 percent of students of color are being educated by an inexperienced teacher compared to 10 percent of students in predominantly white schools.
However, committed teachers working in low-achieving schools are not to blame for the gap in equality. The results may be related more to fragmented policies, challenging working conditions, and, here in Chicago, political inconsistencies like the scandal merry-go-round at City Hall. The City Council can today or any time free up $3 million to the reform Board of Education for student activity fees by rescinding their pay raises or reducing their ridiculous salaries to $60,000 for their part-time jobs. Most don’t seem to work anyway. The hardest work most alderpersons do is “overworking” their facial muscles by smiling at cookouts, picnics, parades and “photo-grandstanding” for newspapers.
The State of Illinois also needs to create a state educational income tax that distributes funds more equitably to poor school districts. Illinois is near the bottom, next to Mississippi in funding its public schools.
Finally, the federal government needs to fund beginning teachers (to help enact their poorly written and poorly funded “Child Left Behind Act”) and induction programs that support new teachers in urban centers nationwide. The State of Illinois should also require mentoring of teachers in low-perfoming schools.
What will the ringing of bells on Sept. 6 mean for young African-American children, 60 percent of whom are still left behind in Chicago? Will it be a Trick or a Treat year? Will we stand up for children when those who are supposed to provide them care fail to do so and rescue them from abusive families?
Will we protest against criminalization of children when school officials call in police to arrest 5- and 10-year-old children for behavior that used to be handled in the principal’s office?
Too many of our young children are going off to juvenile detention centers and prison because too many adults in our homes, congregations, community organizations and schools do not provide them enough love, attention, positive example and alternatives to withstand the powerful Tsunami-like social intoxication of drugs and gangs and because they fail to provide our children the emotional and moral supports they are desperately seeking.
As schools open this fall, instead of grandstanding along the roadside, criticizing our young people, we adults must first look at what we are doing in our “networks” to show them we are there for them.
Can we fix the problems? Malcolm X said, “As long as you are convinced you have never done anything, you can never do anything.”