Chicago, It’s on All of Us to Close the Gaps for Black and Brown Children

Enough is enough. I’m kicking off 2020 with less talk and more action. 

I need all concerned Chicagoans on deck at the Our Kids Can’t Wait: Education Town Hall on February 25. Our Black and Brown students are in crisis, and the only way we’ll make real progress is if the whole community unifies and puts pressure on our leaders and elected officials to get it together.

Click INTERESTED below if you’re ready for this.

Let me tell you where my head is at.

This urgent action comes on the heels of reading the new report, “The Secret Shame: How America’s Most Progressive Cities Betray Their Commitment to Educational Opportunities for All,” where brightbeam (the umbrella org for Chicago Unheard and Education Post and a bunch of other platforms) spills all the tea about “achievement” gaps. 

As an early disclaimer, the report—and America in general—uses the term “achievement gap” to describe education proficiency lapses between different groups. Starting here and now, we’re going to get into the habit of saying “opportunity gap” because all of our students are entirely capable of succeeding—it’s the failure to provide them the opportunities to do so that causes the gaps.

Now, we all know there’s a persistent and pervasive opportunity gap between Black, Latinx and White students. However, brightbeam discovered that some cities have waaaaay worse gaps than others. And the shade is, the cities with those divides are actually our beloved “progressive” cities! And, my hometown Chicago was on that list!

Damn, damn, damn!!!

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Researchers looked at the math and reading proficiency data in the 12 most progressive and 12 most conservative cities in the country. They found that conservative cities were actually showing smaller opportunity gaps between these groups.

Now before learning about these findings, I’d actually started to have faith in our elected officials and education administrators in Chicago. I wanted to believe that students living in my stomping grounds of Englewood, Garfield Park, Roseland and other communities like them were getting the academic investment, support and rigor they need and deserve. I was hoping that their chance of accessing a good education would no longer be contingent upon them testing into a selective enrollment school. And I was looking forward to ending the days of zip codes being a key determinant in the quality of education you receive. 

But, as an education activist and organizer who has some insight into Chicago’s politics, and as a Chicago Public Schools (CPS) graduate who felt the effects of a system that cheats kids from low-income communities, I’m not entirely shocked. 

While brightbeam didn’t dive into exploring the causation of these varying outcomes—and even though Chicago wasn’t amongst the most flagrant offenders—this report absolutely serves as a wake-up call and open season for our progressive leadership to really lean into their proclaimed values. 

We’ve seen over 50 schools close in the last two decades and lately I’ve been concerned with the possibility of more considering the release of the school utilization report saying there are still hundreds of underutilized schools.  

Teachers of color have borne the brunt of CPS’ mass layoffs – not to mention the incessant and underlying issue of deficient teacher diversity—and Black and Brown communities have been pawns and losers in an ongoing political battle between CPS, Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), city hall and education reform organizations. 

And yes, Chicago may have been acclaimed for its glowing academic performance a few years back but in 2018, it was reported that those gains had come to a slow crawl and plateau and a few schools’ performance ratings have been downgraded. So we can’t ride that “we got it right once upon a time” wave forever.

All of these factors (including a laundry list of others) are contributing to the exodus of Black families from Chicago and consequently, a decline in school enrollment and quality of education at schools predominantly on the South and West Sides. 

Look, it’s the year 2020. The reality that there are 28 point gaps between Latinx and White students in both math and reading proficiency, and even worse, 36 point divides between Black and White students in Chicago, is unacceptable. 

So here’s what I need y’all to do for now: SHOW UP to the town hall.

And hey, city leadership—y’all have done alright but we need y’all to do better. I know, we have a new mayor who claims to be progressive, a new school board and a few new faces on city council. That’s a start. I also know that we can’t expect change to happen overnight.

But we can’t go another decade or even an academic year with these glaring opportunity gaps. If Chicago is as progressive as it wants to be (not so much proven) then this is an opportunity to acknowledge our areas of growth and stand on those progressive values and tenets. 

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Tanesha Peeples

South Side community leader Tanesha Peeples is a Chicago Public Schools alumna and proud Englewoodian. She currently serves on the board of the Montessori School of Englewood. Formerly, she served the Deputy Director of Outreach for Education Post, for whom she penned the long-running column Hope and Outrage. As an undergraduate student at Northern Illinois University, Tanesha began to develop a passion for and understand the importance of public service. After obtaining her bachelor’s degree in political science and public administration, she returned to Chicago with a new perspective on community, politics and civic engagement. Tanesha then attended and graduated from DePaul University with a master’s degree in public service management and urban planning and development. Throughout her professional career, Tanesha has used her education, passion and experience to navigate a number of nonprofit, political and independent ventures, advancing her mission to educate and empower marginalized populations. Prior to joining Education Post, she also managed her own consulting firm specializing in community relations. Tanesha’s vision is one where everyone—regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender or zip code—can have access to a comfortable quality of life and enjoy the freedoms and liberties promised to all Americans. Find her on Twitter at @PeeplesChoice85.