Rahm Emanuel's Curriculum Plan Will Marginalize Minorities, Teachers Union Claims

03/28/2012 10:07 am ET

Earlier this week, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel urged middle class parents to embrace the city's schools, saying that high-quality options were either available or on the way. Now, the Chicago Teachers Union is latching on to some of his comments, claiming his policies will marginalize minority students.

One way Emanuel hopes to improve the struggling school system is by expanding International Baccalaureate (IB) programming at CPS. Emanuel told the Chicago Sun-Times that the rigorous, pre-college curriculum currently in place at 13 Chicago schools would be expanded to 10 more neighborhood public schools, five of which will offer IB programming exclusively instead of as a supplement.

“I want parents to know now we’re planning for the future so, as they sit around the kitchen table and their child is in fifth-grade [or] sixth-grade, they don’t head for the doors for the suburbs," Emanuel said in the Sun-Times interview. "They know they’re gonna have an option here in Chicago.”

The teachers union, which has been against many of Emanuel's education plans, claims the mayor's expansion of IB programming will favor middle-class white students and marginalize minorities. In a statement issued Monday, the Chicago Teachers Union expressed concerns that amping up admission standards at neighborhood schools could oust the students most reliant on their nearby public high school for access to quality education, while affording additional options to higher-performing students who already have plenty of schools to choose from:

"[Emanuel's] proposal on expanding IB programs in the city calls for attracting more white middle class families back into the city schools," the union wrote in a press release. "The Mayor is taking away resources from neighborhood students and giving them to those who will get selected in the new IB program."

IB programming has been proven effective at increasing graduation rates, even at struggling schools. A recent study conducted by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research on the city's use of IB programming since 1997 found that high-achieving students placed on the IB track have a better chance of getting into selective four-year colleges and staying there, WBEZ reports.

But admission to IB programs is highly selective, and critics worry that its expansion to neighborhood schools, especially at the five locations where all students will be on the IB track, will serve to edge less competitive students out of their neighborhood schools, further reducing their already-limited access to high-quality education.

While Emanuel told the Sun-Times standards would be more relaxed at schools offering IB classes exclusively, most schools consider students' ISAT scores and grades, and require an interview for admission consideration.

Skeptics also note that IB programs aren't cheap. Political blogger Greg Hinz reports that each school's IB program costs $175,000 to $320,000 a year to run, plus around $170,000 to set up each school; money that won't be distributed around the already cash-strapped district.

"That's money that won't be available for other schools," Hinz writes.

Though they are against Emanuel's approach, the CTU said in a statement they do support IB programs, and pointed to research which showed access to the programs at neighborhood schools improved the college performance of black and Latino youth. They just hope all students will have access to this programming.

“[In IB] we had to do 10-page papers, 15-page papers. We were really used to all the stress," Diego Frias, a 2011 graduate of Curie High School's IB program, told the Sun-Times. "In college, I go into my history class and I only have to write two papers for the semester. Looking back at my senior year, I had to write like ten papers. I aced those [college] papers because IB also helps you develop your writing skills tremendously.”

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