Suburban Black and Latino Students Go to Increasingly Segregated Schools | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

Suburban Black and Latino Students Go to Increasingly Segregated Schools

Over the past 15 years, more minority students have moved to Chicago's suburbs. But some new numbers show that suburban black and Latino students are attending increasingly segregated schools.

Suburban schools with 50 percent or more Hispanic students 
Suburban schools with 50 percent or more black students

ambi: Carpentersville Middle School

Look around almost any classroom at Carpentersville Middle School in District 300 and you can see it: three-quarters percent of the kids here are Latino. Latinos make up a quarter of the district's students, but they're concentrated in just a handful of schools, like this one. White students are concentrated in other parts of the district.

FRY: In terms of suburban blacks, suburban Hispanics in Chicago, increasingly, they're going to school with students of their same race/ethnicity.

Richard Fry is the author of a recent Pew Hispanic Center study.

FRY: Their schools are getting less diverse, typically. Not more diverse.

The trend is significant because most of the growth in public school enrollment has been in the suburbs, and that's projected to continue. Fry ranked districts all over the country and found more highly segregated black and Hispanic districts in the Chicago suburbs than anywhere else. District 300 showed up on Fry's list. Superintendent Kenneth Arndt says there's a very simple explanation for that:

ARNDT. Many of the Latinos live east of the river, and many of the other families live west of the river.

That's the Fox River, which cuts across the district. District 300 in the northwest suburbs is huge—stretching out over miles of cornfields and new subdivisions. It includes schools from Carpentersville, Dundee, Algonquin and 12 other towns. The district already spends millions annually to bus kids to its two dozen schools. But integrating students is not the goal. Arndt says that would take more money, and it would keep kids on buses for hours.

ARNDT: I certainly don't look at this as we should be concerned that there are such a high percentage of students of one ethnic group. If they're all receiving a quality education–which they are.

Arndy says District 300 has worked hard to make sure programs and services and facilities are equal across the district.

But Sean Reardon, a Stanford professor who researches suburban housing patterns and school segregation, questions the “separate but equal” strategy.

REARDON: Diverse societies particularly diverse democracies function best when people from an early age learn to communicate with and talk with and understand people from different backgrounds.

Some Latino parents in District 300 agree.

TORRES IN SPANISH: En las escuelas de aquí hay puros latinos…

Fernando Torres says he doesn't want his kids going to school with only Hispanic kids. He wants them exposed to American culture. Plus, he says, the predominantly Latino schools his kids are supposed to go to have gang problems. There's also the question of whether these increasingly segregated minority schools are really equal. In District 300 they're not equal on at least one measure: Test scores.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, the district had to offer 109 students from two Latino schools seats in better performing schools. Fernando Torres happily moved two of his children to the district's predominantly white middle school in Algonquin. He doesn't mind their 15 minute bus ride. Other kids wanted out too. Nearly 250 applied for the transfers.

ASHLEY: There really is a spectrum of alternatives. I think there's a lot between neighborhood schools and a massive busing plan.

Carol Ashley is an attorney representing black and Latino students in the neighboring district of Elgin U-46. After Elgin stopped its decades-old desegregation busing plan in 2004, minority students sued—saying their neighborhood schools are inferior.

Ashley says districts should be more creative about integrating schools. They could throw out attendance boundaries completely and give parents a choice of where to send their kids.

In District 300, Superintendent Arndt says he'll continue his focus on providing Latino kids a good education.

ARNDT: Do we want to have equal opportunity and programs for all kids or do we want to be more concerned with making sure there's balanced ethnic representation in the schools?

If suburban schools continue to become more segregated…that's a question more school leaders will likely be facing.

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