While the Board of Education and much of the public are trying to figure out how to “fix” Chicago’s selective enrollment and magnet program admissions policies now that the desegregation decree has been lifted, little thought seems to be going to what may be a timely alternative: getting rid of magnet, selective, and other programs that pull kids out of neighborhood schools and create massive quality and resource imbalances within the district.
Take a look at the dismal current situation: Even after 15 years of economic growth and mayoral control there aren’t nearly enough selective schools to go around. The consent decree did little to fix the situation. School choice hasn’t solved the problem. Nor has creating new schools. The most qualified and highly paid teachers — and the most advantaged students are clustered at a handful of schools and subsidized by the rest of the system. Even with all the new schools created there aren’t enough spots. Clout seems to have infiltrated the process. Too many parents are being forced to pay for private school or move out of the city to get an education they deem acceptable for their children. As a result, fewer than 10 percent of public school students in the city are white. Fewer than 15 percent come from families above the poverty line.
Sending kids (and dollars and teachers) back to neighborhood schools won’t solve everything. It would likely worsen things for the few teachers and families that have won the education lottery. But it would likely improve things for everyone else, and for the system as a whole. Chicago shouldn’t have an education system that sucks the life out of neighborhood schools and requires kids to win the lottery in order to get a quality education. And now we could do something about it.