By Betsy Burrows
Everyday Education 

Are We Becoming Like The City Of Chicago?


Standard Two of the North Carolina Profess-ional Teaching Standards states that “Teachers establish a respectful environ-ment for a diverse population of students.” The importance of this standard should not be underestimated as the most recent U.S. Census Bureau predicts that by 2042, minorities will make up more than 50 percent of the U.S. population.

Wanting to learn more about how to support diverse students and their families, five Brevard College student teachers and I traveled to Chicago, one of the most diverse cities in the United States, and the home of the great educational philosopher John Dewey. In his book “Democracy and Educat-ion,” Dewey espouses his belief that “only diversity makes change and progress.”

During the week, we visited three different Chicago public schools: Amundson High School with 92 percent minority enrollment and 81 percent economically disadvantage students; Avondale Elementary School with 97 percent minority enrollment and 99 percent economically disadvantaged students, and Murray Elementary with 93 percent minority popu-lation and 50 percent economically disadvantaged income. Even with the challenges that come in educating children in poverty in a school system struggling for resources in over-crowded classrooms, we talked with educational leaders working hard to sustain healthy learning communities and observed dedicated teachers differentiating instruction and actively engaging students in learning.

As hard as educational leaders and teachers are working in the city’s public school, the future for Chicago Public School and many of its students does not look bright. In 2013, Chicago public schools are more de facto segregated by race and social-economic status than ever before with approximately 80 percent of the city’s white middle and upper class students in private schools. Most Chicago children live in poor neighborhoods and attend schools in these poor neighborhoods and are likely to have few friends from classes and races different from their own.

Chicago seems to be following a trend as discussed in a 2009 report from the Civil Rights Project, Reviving the Goal of an Integrated Society: A 21st Century Challenge: “the U.S. is continuing to move backward towards increasing minority segregation in highly unequal schools.”

Chicago with its history of immigration has always had neighborhood schools with high concentrations of minority students, but never before have these neighborhood public schools in the city been so underfunded with state and city tax money being siphoned to new organizations like United Neighborhood Organization (UNO), the largest charter school operator in Illinois. Unfortunately, a 2010 study of 968 schools from the Education and the Public Interest Center entitled “Schools without Diversity” concluded that “charter schools are substantially more segregated by race, income, ability, and English language fluency than their home school districts.”

Incidentally, while we were visiting Chicago, a story broke in the Chicago Sun Tribute reporting that state officials had halted funding to UNO contend-ing that the large charter school operator violated terms of a $98 million grant by hiring contractors who are related to one of the group’s top executives. Other unrest plagues the Chicago school system as well. The day we left Chicago, teacher and public education supporters were beginning a three-day march to protest the closing of 54 neighborhood schools due to a one billion dollar deficit.

The state of public education in Chicago relates to our schools in North Carolina. The N.C. State Senate Budget released last week cut K-12 public school funding by $135 million, while at the same time, our legislators introduced bills to give parents $4,200 in vouchers to send their children to private or religious schools. These actions may continue to segregate our children in their schools at a time when more than ever we need to help our children learn to live and work within diverse communities.

As Dewey understood and wrote about in his book “Democracy and Education,” democracy is strengthened, indeed relies upon, an “Everyday Education” where our children learn together in inclusive and diverse classrooms that reflect the larger global community where they will grow up to work and live. Even though miles apart, the mission statement of both Brevard High School and Amundson High School contains the goal of, “preparing students to be successful as citizens in a global and diverse society.”

(Betsy Burrows is director of Teacher Education at Brevard College.)


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