Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What's the Problem?

Race, class, and school admissions. If that isn't the set-up for a fraught conversation, I don't know what is. I mention it because that's exactly what's going on in Chicago. A 2007 Supreme Court decision prevented the use of race in determining school decisions. That caused problems for the system in trying to comply wth a desegregation order. So, rather than use race as the determining criterion, CPS is looking at census tracts, neighborhood income levels, and other socio-economic indicators as the determinative factors. The goal being that by looking at these issues, the system will be able to reap a "racial dividend" and achieve essentially the same result.

Frankly, all of this makes sense to me. However, some of Chicago's alderman have other ideas and are calling the new system unjust and a way to get white students into selective schools. They may have a point given that the new methods seem to be somewhat less than ideal. For instance, the article reports that "some students will be competing against kids whose families make at least 10 times more than theirs do." So obviously the system needs some tinkering.

Assuming that things were working well, though, I think that this makes a whole lot of sense. I've always been a strong believer in the maxim that your solutions should address your problems. Otherwise, what's the point? So is the problem race or is the problem socio-economic disparities. Obviously, the two are pretty firmly linked in this country so it's a little tough to separate them out. However, since I have a hard time believing that different races automatically have different levels of academic achievement, I'm inclined to favor socio-economic factors. If that's the problem, then that's what our solutions should be targeting. Chicago seems to have started down that road, but they've got a ways to go still.

On an unrelated note, the Los Angeles Times just ran an editorial saying that while charters have a lot of promise, "they're no magic bullet." Couldn't agree more. Could we be seeing the beginning of a shift on popular perception of the schools? Obviously one editorial doesn't make a trend, but it's a start.

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