I want to be a good progressive and all, but I'm not going to sit here and pretend that school "busing," that is the court-ordered desegregation of urban school districts, was anything other than a disaster. And yesterday's ruling by U.S. District Judge Charles P. Kocoras continues to prosecute this failed and useless policy.
What's wrong with it? First of all, to say there are no white kids in Chicago Public Schools anymore would only be a slight eggageration. In the 2000 census, Chicago's population was 31% non-Hispanic whites. But the Studen population is a little less than 10% white, and the city's definition of "white" includes South Asian students for some reason, and they account for about a third of that total. In other words, about 93% of the school district's students are "minority." So what happens to all the white kids that you see getting pushed around in strollers, but who never end up in CPS schools? The parents who can afford it send their kids to private school. The parents who can't generally move to the suburbs, precisely so they can be in a "good" school district. I'd be willing to bet that a good chunk of the remaining white students are the children of CPS or city workers who are contractually required to live within city limits.
The reason it works this way is the nature of local control in American federalism. School districts are not allowed to discriminate, and federal courts can order a local school district to desegregate if that school district is in violation. But each school district is considered as a discrete entity, and families who move across the border into the next district are no longer affected by the court order. So if one school district has 1000 kids, and puts all 500 black kids in one school and all 500 white kids in another school, it's illegal. But if there are two school districts right next to each other, each with 500 kids, and one district is all white and the other is all black, that's completely legal. So the history of "desegregation" has been the history of increased residential segregation, rather than decreased school segregation.
There are almost 450,000 children in Chicago Public Schools, more than 400,000 of them "minority." The dispute currently being decided in the 24-year-old legal case is whether there might be several hundred spots available in the 25 (out of several hundred) locals schools that still have a white majority (by "majority" we mean "more than half." There are no overwhelmingly white schools in Chicago to my knowledge, and many schools are nearly 100% Latino or 100% black). I don't understand why we are still wasting time on this issue.
Since the only truly segregated schools in Chicago are all-minority, they will remain segregated even if a few students are allowed to transfer (if they actually do. Only about half of the 83 kids who were allowed to move due to NCLB did so). Meanwhile, the white students who were improperly admitted to the neighborhood schools in question will probably be moved to the suburbs. They will be replaced in their neighborhoods by either Latino immigrants or childless yuppies. The net effect will be to increase segregation, and deprive the city of additional middle class residents. And holding on to middle class residents is important to a city - they pay more in taxes than they consume in city services, thus subsidizing for services to poor residents, who consume more in services than they pay in taxes.
The ruling does not affect the city's growing number of "magnet" schools, which are mixed-race by definition and have strict entrance requirements based on academic performance. In the nation's worst school district, some of these "magnet" schools are the best in the state - Whitney Young and North Side College Prep were the two best schools in the state last year, beating out New Trier, pride of the North Shore suburbs. Strange to discover that CPS can, in fact, run a good school if it chooses to, but doesn't do so for the rest of the city.
And therein lies the key. This issue should not be approached from the perspective of individual rights at all. It's not about the right of South Side kids to enter a lottery to go to a North Side school 20 miles from home. It's about the responsibility of the nation to educate its children. We need to make all of the schools better throughout the city, not bicker about who gets in to the 50 or so that don't suck. The same problem crops up when we talk about school vouchers or magnet schools - the kids that get left behind are in even worse shape when the good students leave. Meanwhile we have a school board that squashes school-level efforts at improvement. The only real solution is to find out what the neighborhood schools need to improve, whether it's equipment, security, teachers, curriculum, or parent involvement, and get it done.
"Desegregation" was a great theory but it won't work until the Feds have the authority to order integration across a region, not just within a district. When they start busing West Side kids up to New Trier, well that will be something.
Comments, Mr. Wells? Ms. Heliotrope?