Chicago Public Schools

Race in Chicago: Wide Educational Divide Continues in the City

NBC Universal, Inc.

There is an educational divide by race in Chicago, as federal data shows wide gaps in advanced placement courses, segregation and discipline between African-American, Latinx and White students.

Even in the face of that data, Chicago Public Schools officials say Black and Latinx students have made tremendous academic strides, which has led to educational experts noting CPS as “one of the fastest-improving districts in the country.”

Still, the district said there is much work to be done to address the impacts of centuries of disinvestment in all facets of life that students still feel the impact to this day.

Just ask college student Styles Avant-Pinkston.

The University of Illinois-Chicago junior said when he was growing up in West Austin, some families made the decision to send their children out of the neighborhood to get a good education.

“If you’re not in a good elementary school, you’re gonna most likely go to a middle school that’s not good and then when it’s time to take a test to get into these good schools in Chicago, you haven’t been trained for this,” said Avant-Pinkston.

Avant-Pinkston is now is studying history and secondary education and said he wants to teach in his childhood neighborhood.

“We need to make sure that these neighborhood schools are being the best, they are the best of the best,” Avant-Pinkston said. “I shouldn’t have to take a fifty minute bus ride to go to a good school.  I should be able to just walk to a good school.”

Black and Brown students make up the large majority of CPS students, and yet a ProPublica analysis of 2015 federal data shows white students are 2.3 times more likely to be enrolled in at least one advanced course as Black students.

“We’re dealing with a hundred years of really intentionally exploitative economic policies towards Black communities and policies that explicitly created a segregated school system,” said Alexios Rosario-Moore, Ph. D of the UIC Department of Education Policy Studies.

According to numbers released by the US Department of Education, in 2017, Black students made up just over a third of CPS’s student population, but more than three quarters of CPS students who were expelled were black.

Chicago Public Schools opened its Office of Equity in 2018 to address educational equality.

“Chicago Public Schools is deeply committed to improving outcomes for all students and closing the opportunity gap between white and students and Black and Latinx students is among our highest priorities,” said CPS spokesperson James Gherardi.  “While the root causes are systemic and it will take time to fully address, the district remains committed to continue doing everything in our power to ensure students in every community have equitable resources and educational opportunities.”

CPS said in 2020, students achieved a record-high five-year graduation rate of 82.5%, an accomplishment spearheaded by strong gains from Latinx and African-American students.

Additionally, CPS said it has restructured admissions to selective enrollment high schools to ensure access from high performing students in every corner of the city.  The district added disciplinary action continues to improve for the district, including a reduction of out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, police notifications and student arrests taking place on school grounds.

Still, Rosario-Moore said it is important to examine school policies to make sure disparities can be mitigated.

"We’re in the single digits for graduating young black men from four year colleges and we know that there’s a strong association between four year degree completion and wealth," said Rosario-Moore.

UIC said it’s Call Me MISTER (Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role Models) initiative is to increase the pool of available licensed teachers from a broader, more diverse background. UIC said the initiative supports undergraduate students who want to teach and serve as role models in urban elementary schools to positively impact the lives of children.

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