Educational Equity Project

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Click HERE to read the Chicago Lawyers' Committee's testimony to the Senate on ending the school-to-prision pipeline.

School often serves as a child’s first introduction to society outside the home, and behaviors and social norms in school- as well as the skills learned in school- have profound impact on adult lives. Unfortunately, this introduction to society often serves as an introduction to race- and class-dictated social norms, especially for disadvantaged children. Disparities in rate and severity of discipline, the amount of funding for students’ education, classroom size, and other factors establish social disadvantages at a very young age.

Our project hopes to prevent, reduce, and eliminate the known disproportionate complications in the classroom burdening minority and low-income communities in the Chicago area. To do this, we are partnering with a variety of organizations and law firms to help address community concerns about the educational injustices they face. We also present our services at grassroots meetings in needy communities and approach prevalent problems from both litigation and policy advocacy perspectives.

EEP promotes civil rights in education and strong educational outcomes for minority children.  Poor and minority students are too frequently denied access to a quality education.  This lack of access stifles the civic capacity of entire groups of people and reinforces the status quo of educational stratification.  The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee supports increasing all children’s access to a quality education.  The CLC believes that this is attainable by:

  • increasing racial diversity in public schools;
  • supporting local groups’ efforts to lobby for educational equity in their own communities;
  • doing everything possible to rehabilitate broken schools, and closing them as a last resort;
  • encouraging schools to use restorative justice practices to provide the greatest opportunity for students to remain in school;
  • promoting early intervention for students with disciplinary issues;
  • ensuring that all students have access to fair disciplinary hearings;
  • breaking the school-to-prison pipeline;
  • using teachers’ unions to ensure that students educational needs are being met; and
  • ensuring that the focus of education policies or projects always revolves around increasing children’s access to quality education. 

The Discipline Problem.

African-American students make up 45% of the Chicago Public Schools population and account for 78% of the expulsions.  Yet numerous studies indicate African-American students’ behavioral offenses are not more numerous or more severe than their white and Hispanic counterparts.  These expulsions have drastic effects.  Expulsion is more likely to cause a child to drop out of high school than any other factor.  Children who do not finish high school are 3.5 times more likely to be arrested as adults.  Additionally, approximately 82% of the adult prison population is composed of high-school dropouts.  Because African-American students account for such a high proportion of expulsions, that group is systemically pushed out of schools and into prisons at a higher rate than others.  One solution to this problem is to keep children in school.  

For more information, please see:

·         A 2012 Report from Project Nia

·         A 2012 New York Times Article

Expulsion Hearings.

All children in Chicago Public Schools are entitled to an attorney at their expulsion hearings, though most minority students do not obtain one.  Attorney presence can improve the outcome a student receives.  A good outcome to the hearing decreases the amount of time students spend away from the classroom and provides students with the tools and strategies they need to reform their behavior.  Rather than pushing them out, contesting expulsion helps keep students in schools and decreases their likelihood of dropping out and starting on a path that could likely end in prison or with the student becoming a victim of violence.

The Educational Equities Project provides free legal representation for public school students at their expulsion hearings.

Restorative Justice.

The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights wants to combat the presumption that minority urban youth are criminals.  The Lawyers’ Committee will do this by advocating for Restorative Justice practices.  Restorative Justice practices involve early intervention and rehabilitation rather than harsh disciplinary action.  Restorative Justice focuses on the triad of victim, offender, and community through competency development, offender accountability, and community safety.  Restorative Justice practices include circles, peer juries, community service, family counseling, and victim impact panels.  They are largely effective in decreasing suspension and expulsion rates, improving attendance, and raising test scores.  Ultimately, Restorative Justice focuses on building a supportive community to keep children in school and give them the tools they need to be successful.

Most school codes and policies lack adequate Restorative Justice practices.  Though they are optional in CPS, it is frequently easier for schools to suspend or expel children rather than rehabilitate them.  With more dedicated resources in Chicago, Restorative Justice practices could begin to plug the school-to-prison pipeline.  The Educational Equity Project will advocate for system-wide policy changes requiring Restorative Justice practices in public schools.

For more information, please see the High HOPES Coalition policy report.

Other Problems. 

In addition to unequal discipline, poor and minority students face numerous other obstacles before they can even begin to access a quality education.  The Educational Equity Project will work to address those systemic obstacles.  Our priorities include supporting early intervention for young children so they enter school on equal footing as their peers, results-oriented approaches to teacher retention, testing policies that measure student growth, and policies that encourage high quality teachers.  The Lawyers’ Committee will also work with families to extol the benefits of quality education and try to make schools not only safe community spaces, but ones that communities rely on to provide quality educations to their youth.

In doing so, it will also work to ensure that charter schools operate in accordance with their purpose to serve at-risk populations and oppose school closings where necessary

All too often, the focus in the education arena moves away from what is truly best for children’s education.  The political climate has strayed away from working to improve opportunities for kids.  The Lawyers’ Committee will remain focused on ensuring that children have access to schools that will help them learn and succeed, regardless of the political popularity of doing so.  Fundamentally, all children need access to a quality education.  The results of our poor education system are becoming manifest in the United States’ rapidly decreasing global competitiveness and re-segregating racial stratification.  This is a catastrophic problem and it is time for change.  The Lawyers’ Committee will be instrumental in this change. 

We invite law firms and individuals to lend the power and prestige of the private bar to our efforts in this area by becoming members of the Lawyers' Committee. In addition, we are seeking volunteers to join our Educational Opportunity Advisory Board. The Board will serve as a network of professional resources for the Committee's work in championing equality in the classroom.

Please contact Executive Director Jay Readey for more information on becoming a member of the Lawyers' Committee or to join the Advisory Board.

Education

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