On July 27, the Chicago Public Schools hosted the first of three public forums to hear public input on the current selective enrollment/magnet schools admission policy.

The current policy was adopted by the Chicago Board of Education (CPS’s governing board) during its December 2009 meeting. It replaced the policy that actually diversified K-12 selective enrollment/magnet schools. Selective enrollment/magnets schools were created because, during the ’70s, the federal government found that the Chicago Public school system discriminated against minority students. A consent decree was agreed to in 1980. As a result of the 1980 consent decree, selective enrollment/magnet schools were created to attract and retain both white students and students from middle class homes, and to provide a challenging academic curriculum for disenfranchised minority students within a diversified environment.

On Sept. 24, 2009, at the request of CPS, the 1980 consent decree was lifted by the federal court. CPS made this request because of the 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision to strike down the race-based admissions plans in Seattle, Wash., and Jefferson County, Ken. In my opinion – an opinion also shared by the Illinois Chapter of the ACLU – CPS incorrectly interpreted the decision as prohibiting CPS from using race as a factor to diversify schools.

Since 2007, CPS has retained Richard Kahlenberg, senior fellow at the Century Foundation, to assist in developing a new policy based on socio-economic census data. He has been compensated over $1 million.

Under the current admission policy, 40 percent of the seats of selective enrollment high schools will be offered to students based on their total points – 900 is the maximum score. The remaining 60 percent of the available seats are broken into four tiers, based on the median income of the census tracts within those tiers. Tier 1 reflects the highest median family income. Tier 4 reflects the lowest median family income. The remaining seats offered will be filled by students with the highest point totals in each of the four tiers who did not score in the top 40 percent.

Based on the preliminary results released by CPS, Ron Huberman, CEO of Chicago Public Schools, used a provision of the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law to create an additional 100 seats at Whitney Young (25), Northside College Prep (25), Walter Payton College Prep (25) and Jones College Prep (25) for students from the 70 lowest performing schools who scored at least a 7 in both math and reading on the Illinois State Achievement Test (ISAT).

Curiously, the students from this population did not even apply or take the admission test. In fact, Huberman bypassed African-American students who scored higher and applied but were denied admission to their choice school.

The 100 additional seats is an overt admission that the current policy has reduced diversity at the top high schools in Chicago. If you take away those additional seats, the African-American population at Young, Northside, Payton and Jones decreases significantly.

At the forum, CPS presented data from the aforementioned schools to demonstrate that the current policy is not a disaster for African-American students. But remove those 100 African-American students and the $1 million-plus, one-year policy did not work. Black students also lost seats at Lindblom, Westinghouse, King, and Brooks. These schools are located in predominantly African-American neighborhoods.

The new policy converts the pre-K through 8th grade selective enrollment/magnets schools into neighborhood schools for middle/upper income families. The significant majority of those schools are located in wealthy or predominantly white neighborhoods. If CPS cuts the transportation for students living outside those communities, the burden of transporting them will fall on the family.

The African-American village must become concerned about this new policy. Some will ask, “Why should we be concerned for a small, elite population?” My answer is simple: We must unselfishly fight for all educational opportunities for our children. Remember that the students from those selective schools go on to some of the best colleges and universities. The CPS selective enrollment schools offer among the best curricula in the country, and the advanced placement classes allow students the opportunity to receive college credits in high school.

We must prepare our students to be competitive in this global market. The selective enrollment high schools prepares students to compete for admission into some of the most prestigious academic programs such as the Engineering and Computer Science Colleges at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. Graduates from those colleges earn starting salaries in excess of $60,000 per year and gain significant lifetime earning potential.

Consider two applicants, one from Payton College Prep and one from Manley High School. I would place my bet on the Payton student gaining admission to the U. of I.

Any persons, organizations, churches, elected officials, educators and block clubs concerned about this issue should contact Dwayne Truss at 773-879-5216 or at austin_youth@sbcglobal.net. The next forum is Aug, 10 at Whitney Young High School, 211 S. Laflin at 7 p.m.