Azam Ahmed, Chicago Tribune, July 24, 2010
About three-quarters of selective and magnet schools that are already majority white will grow more segregated under the one-year pilot, which was created after the district was released from a federal mandate to racially integrate last September.
That placed the school district in the position of trying to maintain integration without using race in admissions decisions, a predicament shared by cities across the country. The district released data last week that showed that overall, the racial composition of those admitted has remained steady, but effects at the school level are less clear-cut.
A major reason for the surge in white students at top schools is that the new formula removed longstanding racial caps at these schools, officials say. Previously, white students were limited by court order to 35 percent of students admitted. This year, white admissions went up by as much as 44 percentage points in some cases, particularly in majority white neighborhoods. Many of these schools are among the very best in the school system.
A few schools, like the selective Keller Elementary and magnet Franklin Elementary, are likely to become more integrated with the new policy. Similarly, some largely black selective high schools are slated to see increases in Hispanic students.
But schools such as Hawthorne Elementary, located in the affluent Lakeview neighborhood, saw the number of white students accepted jump 26 percentage points to almost 70 percent of all admitted. At least one majority Hispanic school grew far more segregated under the plan.
Experts say that schools’ demographics often fall prey to the city’s housing segregation. Some magnet and gifted schools in racially isolated parts of the city were already highly segregated. Consider Davis Magnet Elementary in the city’s West Englewood neighborhood: It was and remains 100 percent black.
The causes may be different in each type of selective-enrollment school, because each has a different admissions formula.
Magnet schools use random lotteries with no testing. Gifted centers and selective-enrollment high schools, on the other hand, require testing for admission.
For selective schools, the issues are different. Forty percent of seats are filled based strictly on test scores. The remaining seats are divided evenly based on socioeconomic tiers.
Critics think that the upswing in white students at selective schools came because the cap was lifted and a disproportionate number of the highest-scoring applicants were white. In addition, students in the wealthiest socioeconomic tier are guaranteed 15 percent of the seats–potentially drawing from the same pool of affluent kids.
Recognizing they had a problem this March, the district opened up 25 seats at the four most competitive high schools for students at the worst elementary schools. Without that concession, which assisted black students almost exclusively, the number of white students would have jumped tremendously, officials acknowledge.