A Kernel of Truth: What a Lawsuit Filed by Three Black Teachers in Chicago Tells us About Life in Obama’s City

Occasionally, a story is reported in the press containing kernels of truth which haven’t quite popped correctly to produce the buttery, easily digestible popcorn the media usually feeds the public  [3 teachers, union sue CPS, allege racial bias School overhauls target South: West side campuses with higher percentages of African-American staff, educators say, Chicago Tribune, December 28, 2012]:

Three Chicago Public Schools teachers who lost their jobs this year said in a lawsuit that the district’s process for “turnaround” schools is racially discriminatory because it targets West and South side campuses with a higher percentage of African-American teachers and staff. 

The teachers, Donald L. Garrett Jr., Robert Green and Vivonell Brown Jr., are joined in the federal lawsuit filed Wednesday by the Chicago Teachers Union. The lawsuit asks for class-action status, saying the district discriminates against African-American teachers and paraprofessionals when it selects schools for “turnaround” based on performance, “resulting in the termination of all employees of the schools.”  

The lawsuit said the percentage of African-Americans teaching in the district has declined from about 41 percent in 2000 to about 29 percent in 2011. That corresponds with the district’s “intentional actions, policies and practices to phase out, close, combine or reconstitute purportedly poor-performing schools,” the lawsuit said. 

In February, the district designated 10 schools as “turnaround” and later fired 347 tenured teachers from those schools, along with staff, the lawsuit said. CPS declined to comment on the specifics of the lawsuit, saying it hadn’t yet been served.

So schools in the less than 8 percent white (out of 404,000 students) Chicago Public Schools system that are in need of “turnaround” also happen to have both a high percentage of black teachers and black students? Teach for America jobs in the urban areas of America, especially Chicago, are a highly sought-after resume builder for white kids hoping one day to have their story of improving the lives of minority children told in a best-selling non-fiction work or in a Hollywood feature.

At the very least, a Lifetime original movie will do.

The few kernels of truth contained in this Chicago Tribune story on displaced black teachers is nothing compared to disposed kernels of veracity, which, when pieced together, provide a hilarious glimpse into the sunk cost known as Chicago Public Schools, and the impending insolvency of the city of Chicago once the almost 87 percent brown and black children of the CPS system grow to maturity.

First, no matter the amount of money or time invested by – preferably white – pedagogues, the pesky achievement gap is present in the CPS system [CPS fails to close performance gap: Black students still losing academic ground despite reforms, study finds,11-14-2011, Chicago Tribune]:

 Twenty years of reform efforts and programs targeting low-income families in Chicago Public Schools has only widened the performance gap between white and African-American students, a troubling trend at odds with what has occurred nationally. 

Across the city, and spanning three eras of CPS leadership, black elementary school students have lost ground to their white, Latino and Asian classmates in testing proficiency in math and reading, according to a recent analysis by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research. 

Even for schools so often weighed down by violence, poverty and dysfunction in their neighborhoods, news of this growing deficit was surprising to researchers considering the strides African-American students had made nationally over the same period. 

“It has certainly been shocking to us to discover there has been progress in some areas but without equity progress not shared equally among all the students,” said Marisa de la Torre, a researcher on a recent report by the consortium that examined two decades of changes within CPS. “You don’t really want to leave one group of students behind.” 

This is an important issue in Chicago, where almost half of CPS students are black, the vast majority from low-income households. Yet for all the talk and attention paid to boosting African-American achievement in recent years, there has been no such breakthrough.

Well… what exactly does a “turnaround” school like, save one that practices either grade inflation or outright cheating?

But what kind of culture, what kind of climate do these children – of which, only 8 percent are white – create in the CPS system? Besides the horrible grades and test scores the primarily non-white children, especially in the almost entirely black South Side of Chicago, produce, what does the environment look like in the CPS system? 

How about one that has an Orwellian-sounding “CPS Security Command Center” — a 24/7 manned eye-in-the-sky that provides the most comprehensive school monitoring and surveillance in the nation. Yes, you read that correctly — a “CPS Security Command Center” exists on a 24/7 basis in Chicago, a powerful reminder of the type of conditions and environment created by a student population that is only 8 percent white [New CPS Security Chief to Gain Trust, Involve Community to Keep Students Safe, MyFox Chicago, March 29,2012]:

Every parent wants to send their kids to a great school. But thousands of parents just pray their children come home in one piece. Without safety, a school can’t be great. 

In her first interview since taking over this area for Chicago Public Schools, the new Chief of Security spoke about how she’s about a whole new way of keeping students safe. 

Metal detectors, pat-downs and backpack searches. They’re the first order of the day in many schools – not exactly the ritual of champions. 

“Immediately when you see those metal detectors, it sets in your mind, oh my goodness, this is a place where they need metal detectors?” CPS Security Chief Jaine Chou said. “You know you’re on guard suddenly.” 

“Back in the early 90s it was really rough in the schools, it’s definitely better now,” CPS security officer Dave Wagner said. “I think better security procedures, safe practices, you know.” 

The retired Chicago police sergeant works in the CPS Security Command Center, one of the most extensive school surveillance operations in the country. It’s still manned 24-7. 

Chou denied that cameras are replacing people to save money. On the contrary, she said relationships are key to her strategy. 

“A kid who has a tip is not going to to be able to tell that tip to a camera,” Chou said. “That kid is going to have to tell that tip to an adult that they trust.” 

Chou backs up her holistic approach with a realistic hotline to the cops. She just hopes to use it less and less. 

“If we can get the groundswell of the students, of the families, of the community, ideally you can start weaning people off of the need for the hardcore tactics,” Chou said. “I think across the country people are starting to see that law enforcement alone is not going to be enough.”

These are the conditions created by a student population that is 87 percent black and brown in the CPS system; a Big Brother state has been assembled in Chicago to babysit the 404,000+ students enrolled in the K-12 CPS system, of which only eight percent are white. 

And black teachers are suing over being fired from an area of the city that is exclusively black, the conditions created by these students requiring the erection of a sophisticated infrastructure of surveillance humming 24/7? Just how invasive our cameras in the CPS system? [Chicago Public Schools officials eyeing updated security cameras for 14 high schools

District proposing $7 million for new high-definition surveillance devices, which will feed to police stations and citywide network, Chicago Tribune, July 24, 2011]:

The Chicago Public Schools’ current security camera system, introduced in 1999, has 7,000-plus analog cameras across 268 schools. At 365 schools, there are no security cameras. Two other high schools, Solorio and South Shore, already have received the new digital cameras.

In light of the Newtown Tragedy, we got this promise from Chairman Chou, I’m sorry, Chief of Security for the CPS system [Security chief vows no further cuts in uniformed cops at CPS high schools, Chicago Sun-Times, 12-17-12]:

The security chief for Chicago Public Schools vowed Monday to absorb a $5 million cut in annual security funding with no further cuts in the 153 uniformed police officers permanently assigned to high schools.

“We will not be impacting the number of full-time officers we have inside schools today,” chief safety and security officer Jadine Chou said in the wake of the Connecticut school massacre.

Chou acknowledged that the school security budget has been reduced — from $18 million a year ago to $13 million this year.

Asked how she plans to absorb that $5 million cut without reducing the number of officers, “We’re still working with the police and exploring other avenues that can accomplish the same goal. Other efficiencies,” she said, refusing to reveal specifics.

“It is my charge to make the appropriate allocation changes. I’m not prepared to discuss how we will do that. But we will do it while maintaining the level of safety. That will not include reducing police presence inside the schools.”

Last year, high schools were offered $25,000 in cash for every police officer they agreed to give up in a move that CPS hoped would reduce the number of officers permanently assigned to high schools from 200 to 60. That would have freed 140 officers for street duty.

At the time, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he was not certain whether every high school needed two uniformed officers stationed inside at a cost of $25 million or whether there was another, more cost-effective way to provide the same level of security.

The second look by a school system drowning in red ink was prompted by a tripling in the annual tab for police service.

“They’re asking some fundamental questions that need to be asked. Just because it was done in the past doesn’t mean it was the right way to do it or the most cost-effective way to do it,” the mayor said at the time.

“Schools are different. Student bodies are different. The officers are different. How do we achieve the level of safety I want across every school, regardless of where it is, and what is the best way to achieve it?”

Schools are different; student bodies are different. The Chicago Public System is a reminder of the type of academic and moral culture created by a K-12 population that is 87 percent black and brown; it’s a reminder of the extreme measures necessary in the implementation of a massive security apparatus aptly named

“CPS Security Command Center” — a 24/7 manned eye-in-the-sky that provides the most comprehensive school monitoring and surveillance in the nation. 

There is no “turnaround” for the Chicago Public System or the city of Chicago; one day, there will simply be a turning away of any attention on the city of Chicago, allowing the citizens of the Second City to wallow in the misery of the conditions their off-springs and themselves have created. 
Why did segregation once exist? 

Look upon the 2012 CPS system and marvel at the reason a school system that is eight percent white must have something called a “CPS Security Command Center” to maintain order.



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