Parents File Discrimination Complaint against CPS Promotion Policy for Elementary Students

by Mary C. Piemonte 

Since Mayor Richard M. Daley took over the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), thousands of elementary students have failed under a policy which is proven failure, according to members of the Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE), parents of retained students, as well as their advocates from the Chicago Teachers’ Union and other groups.

They say “The policy has resulted in systemic violations of the civil rights of African-American and Latino students.”

So, they filed a discrimination complaint against CPS for their promotion policy on Dec. 8, asking the U. S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights for relief on behalf of their affected children.

The parents charged that the CPS policy is “flunking” elementary students who fail to meet an arbitrary cut-off score on state standardized tests. PURE representatives said it is a “discriminatory practice” which “wastes $100 million per year.”

“What we found out is that the policy really doesn’t work,” Julie Woestehoff, executive director for PURE, told RJ during a phone interview shortly after a press conference to announce the law suit.

“It really doesn’t help children. It hurts a lot of children. It costs about a $100 million a year, and the children that are most likely to be affected by it are African American and Latino children. And that’s illegal.

“We’re looking at the numbers and it looks like about 14 percent of all African American children get retained, but only about 2 percent of all white children. That’s what we call a disparate impact,” Woestehoff added.

According to Woestehoff, PURE first filed a discrimination complaint against the CPS at the federal education civil rights office in 1999 for flunking kids based on their Iowa tests scores. That complaint resulted in several changes in the policy by August 2000.

But since then, PURE has discovered “they’re really not keeping those promises” to change their tactics with the promotion policy.

“There was a report about five years ago that looked at whether retention was helping or not. And it found that the retention was really hurting children. So a lot of things have happened over the last 10 years, and we’ve been working on this complaint for about two years.”

The report to which Woestehoff referred to is a study of the CPS promotion policy by the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago, entitled “Ending Social Promotion: The Effects of Retention, which can be found here
publications.php?pub_id=12

Woestehoff said a typical tale of why students are retained is like the one provided at the press conference of a sixth grade student from the Black Magnet Elementary School, 9101 S Euclid Ave.

The student is a very good Reading and Math student, but didn’t test very well in Math even though he gets Bs on his class assignments. So he had to go to summer school.

In summer school, the student got a B in Math and passed the subject. But he didn’t do so well in his Reading assignments in Summer School, which they made him take even though his Reading grades were fine and weren’t the reason why he was sent to Summer School.

He ended up flunking Reading in Summer School and is now required to repeat the sixth grade.
“Now, keep in mind that he went into Summer School because of his Math score. And he passed Math, but they still are holding him back,” Woestehoff said.

“Of course he feels like a failure. He’s not happy about going back to school in general. He really doesn’t want to go to school. It’s really made him lose confidence in himself. And that’s just the recipe for drop-outs.”
Woestehoff said her group wants the retentions to stop altogether, because they don’t think it’s a good idea for anybody.
“There may be point one-tenth of a percent of the students who might benefit from retention. But most students don’t,” she added.

Woestehoff said the $100 million per year spent on retention students could be used for much more beneficial purposes, other than making a student repeat the grade.

“We would like to see that money used to put students that are struggling, maybe in a lower class size. We’d like to have some of that money used for tutoring and for extra resources for those students that really need the most help,” she said.

“We also think the parents need to be more involved. And some of that might cost money. You might need to bring in some experts and have parent workshops, like what PURE does. Also, just helping parents to be more partners in education, we really think the parents need to have more respect from the system and more of a voice in their own child’s programs, and what happens in the schools, ” she added.
The parents’ advocacy group must now wait and see if the federal Department of Education will decide to investigate the matter or not, according to Woestehoff.

“We’re not likely to get to talk to them for a while. We just handed in our complaint. What will happen next is that they will decide if they are going to investigate and they’ll send us a letter and tell us that,” she said.

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