For white students in suburban Chicago, school has become a much more diverse place in the last 20 years. But the region has seen a jump during that time in the number of highly segregated black and Latino schools, a new WBEZ analysis shows.
Half of all African American students in the region still go to school in what sociologists would consider “extreme segregation, " in schools where 90 percent or more of students are African American. Twenty-two percent of all Latino public school students in the eight-county region go to highly segregated schools, a proportion that is growing in the city and the suburbs.
WBEZ compared school demographics from 20 years ago and today for our series Race: Out Loud. We examined schools in Chicago, suburban Cook, DuPage, Grundy, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry and Will counties.
“There were a lot of opportunities for integration and making progress, and nothing much was done,” says Gary Orfield, a lead researcher nationally on school segregation and a proponent of racial integration.
He says school desegregation is no longer a priority in education.
“We just test more and we put more pressure on the schools that are segregated and everything will be fine. It’s a lie.”
WBEZ’s analysis shows a stark resegregation of the city’s schools:
►The number of Chicago public schools that are 90 percent or more black has increased in the last 20 years, from 276 to 287. That’s despite a 57,000-student drop in black enrollment in the district.
►71.0 percent of all CPS black students go to extremely racially isolated schools or more black. In 20 years, that figure has inched down only negligibly, from 73.4 percent.
►The number of racially isolated Hispanic schools is up, from 26 to 84. Thirty-nine percent of all CPS Hispanic students go to extremely racially isolated schools. This is up from 20 years ago, when 17 percent of Hispanics went to such schools.
►White students have become more concentrated. There are now seven schools that are at least 70 percent white; 20 years ago there were none.
►The number of “integrated” schools--schools where no one race makes up more than 50 percent of the student body--has taken a nosedive, from 106 schools in 1990 to 66 schools today. “No majority” schools used to make up 17.5 percent of all city schools. Today the proportion is just 9.8 percent.
Chicago Public Schools declined to comment on WBEZ’s findings.
The demographic shifts have occurred even though a student's school assignments now depend far less on kids’ addresses and far more on parental choice than in the past.
Many of the city’s newest schools are highly segregated. The overwhelming majority of charter schools that opened in the last 20 years are extremely racially isolated.
“To me, this is all about school quality, it’s not just about race,” says Phyllis Lockett, president and CEO of New Schools for Chicago, which encourages and funds charter school creation.
Lockett says a one-race school can be a nurturing, safe place for many students.
She says the number of highly segregated black and Latino schools may be growing for an obvious reason: schools have gotten smaller. She says a single school 20 years ago may have held many more students; today the same number of students may be spread across two or more schools.
Suburban schools diversify
Another WBEZ finding: a dramatic decrease in the number of extremely white schools.
In 1990, a third of schools in the metro area were 90 percent or more white. Today, just 4 percent are. The number of overwhelmingly white schools dropped from 562 to 103.
At the same time, the number of schools where no one race holds a majority has grown across the suburbs. The number of such schools more than quadrupled--from 58 to 280.
“The whole foundry of racial change has moved well out into suburbia and people aren’t very aware of it,” Orfield says.
But racially isolated black and Latino schools are popping up in the suburbs: 10 percent of all suburban Latino kids and 20 percent of all suburban black kids attend them, up from 20 years ago.
Today, 80 percent of all white kids living in the suburbs still attend schools that are at least 50 percent white. That number is down from 90 percent twenty years ago.
Sylvia Puente, executive director of the Latino Policy Forum, says it doesn’t necessarily matter whether a student is in a racially isolated or integrated environment if they are getting a quality education.
Number of Chicago land schools that are...
|20 years ago||Today|
|Number of Chicagoland schools that are:|
|At least 90% Black||309||343|
|At least 70% Black||380||451|
|At least 50% Black||466||534|
|At least 90% Hispanic||27||114|
|At least 70% Hispanic||83||290|
|At least 50% Hispanic||142||449|
|At least 90% White||562||103|
|At least 70% White||1001||590|
|At least 50% White||1217||955|
|At least 90% Asian||0||0|
|At least 70% Asian||0||1|
|At least 50% Asian||0||3|
|"No Majority" (no racial group has more than 50 percent)||164||346|
|Total number of schools||1990||2287|
She raised concerns about the increase in racial-isolation over the last two decades, but says overall, all schools--integrated, racially isolated, suburban, and inner-city--have a long way to go in raising the achievement of Latino children.But Amy Stuart Wells, a researcher at Columbia University and a proponent of school integration, says, “Parents have to ask themselves, ‘Can a segregated public school prepare our children for the kind of society they’re going to be a part of in the 21st century?’ I think the answer to that, and the research suggests, the answer is clearly, ‘No.’”