Chicago to move away from school choice, center neighborhood schools to rectify ‘structural racism’

The Chicago Board of Education passed a resolution Thursday that seeks to move away from school choice and bolster the city’s neighborhood schools to address “long-standing structural racism and socio-economic inequality.”

“While the strategic plan will be developed in partnership with our entire CPS community, we are centering equity and students furthest from opportunity,” said Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Board of Education President Jianan Shi.

He went on to say, “As such, this moment requires a transformational plan that shifts away from a model that emphasizes school choice to one that elevates our neighborhood schools to ensure each and every student has access to a high-quality educational experience.”

According to the resolution that was passed, the board looks to “transition away from privatization and admissions/enrollment policies and approaches that further stratification and inequity in CPS and drive student enrollment away from neighborhood schools.”

Furthermore, the board wants to create a model where neighborhood schools are central to the education system – one that recognizes these schools as “institutional anchors” in the community to rectify “past ongoing racial and economic inequity and structural disinvestment.”

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While many CPS students choose schools outside the ones they are zoned for, the board looks to focus on elevating students’ neighborhood schools.

Chicago’s school system currently allows students to apply to the high school of their choice instead of the traditional zip code model that restricts a student to their neighborhood school.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, 76% of high school students and 45% of elementary school students do not choose to attend their assigned neighborhood schools.

The board explained via press release that the resolution aims to develop and outline parameters for their “five-year strategic plan.”

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“The Board has committed to working in partnership with our CPS communities to ensure the new plan helps develop high-quality PreK-12 pathways in neighborhood schools, prioritizing our most under-resourced communities,” the press release said.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported further that CPS officials aren’t looking to dismantle schools with selective enrollment like magnet and charter schools. However, that could happen if the community wants it, as officials plan to facilitate public comment to weigh in on issues over the next few months.

Parents at CPS voiced concern that the move could debilitate students’ opportunities to test in selective schools like Walter Payton College Prep, NBC Chicago reported.

As the board develops its strategic plan, it will begin its community engagement and outreach this spring, starting with a survey about the CPS’ facilities master plan.

The CPS Board did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) on Thursday called the move “a step in the right direction” and “long overdue.”

They added that although selective enrollment intended to “desegregate the school district” from the outset, the opposite effect occurred. They also highlighted a report from the Metropolitan Council showing a decline in Black students being enrolled in Chicago’s most selective high schools since 2000.

“Now more than ever, we should be focused on establishing and strengthening [Career and Technical Education] programming and career pathways, building well-resourced and fully staffed neighborhood schools, allocating resources for the expansion of sustainable community schools, and fixing the deep and inequitable flaws in the selective enrollment process as part of a broader vision for Chicago Public Schools and undoing the damage left behind by decades of failed mayoral controlled corporate school ‘reforms,'” a statement from CTU said.

In September, CTU President Stacey Davis Gates defended sending her son to private school, despite her past rhetoric of denouncing school choice as racist. 

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The Illinois Policy Institute (IPI), a think-tank dedicated to analyzing policy decisions in the Prairie State, has been tracking the board’s efforts in shaping Chicago’s education system. 

“The Chicago Teachers Union and their supporters on the school board are laying the groundwork to possibly move away from public charter, selective enrollment, and magnet schools – stripping away public-school choice not long after they killed Illinois’ only private school choice program. This plan would destroy one of the city’s best ways of helping Black and Latino families forge strong educational pathways for their children,” Matt Paprocki, the president and CEO of the Illinois Policy Institute told Fox News Digital.

He went on to say, “The schools provide a refuge for poor and minority families confronted by failing and Chicago Public Schools neighborhood schools. By pushing this resolution through their allies on the school board, CTU confirms again they care more about power and control than students’ best interests. The implication is cruel for low-income families who can’t afford any other options.”

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