NOTE: The following article only appears in the print version of the News-Gazette; it is duplicated here with express permission of News-Gazette.
Real results of Unit 4 Schools consent decree
By DR. MIKE WOODS
Champaign taxpayers deserve to know what real progress toward eliminating or reducing the disparities in academic achievement between black and white students resulted from the consent decree imposed on Champaign Unit 4 Schools in 2002 by Judge Joe Billy McDade of the U.S. District Court for Central Illinois.
In November 2001, the Unit 4 school board signed off on the consent decree, a binding, agreed-upon judgment requiring the school district to eliminate unwarranted disparities between black and white students in graduation rates and overall academic achievement and in a number of other areas where disparities were present.
On Aug. 1, 2009, Champaign Superintendent Arthur Culver and the Unit 4 school board announced approval of a settlement agreement that ended the federal consent decree. The News-Gazette reported on Nov. 5, 2009, that Culver described the settlement as a community success. Culver stated, “We have implemented systems and procedures to ensure equity and excellence for African-American students” School board President Dave Tomlinson echoed this sentiment, stating, “We’ve been moving along, even without the judge’s order. We will continue to make strides like we planned all along.” Judge McDade agreed that the district had made sufficient progress toward eliminating or reducing disparities between black and white students and entered an order approving a settlement agreement that ended the consent decree.
For nearly eight years the Unit 4 school district spent millions of dollars on lawyer and consultant fees and district staff focused countless working hours on meeting the demands of the consent decree. During this time, Culver publicly claimed to have improved graduation rates, school climate and black student participation in gifted and honors courses. He further claimed to have reduced the achievement gap between black and white students and achieved community success” through his leadership. A closer look at what happened within the district during that time span suggests that something else occurred.
Although the disparity in graduation rates between black and white students did decrease from 2002 to 2010, the disparity increased once again to nearly its previous level in 2011. According to Unit 4 records in 2002, 92.5 percent of white students and 71.8 percent of black students graduated – a disparity of 20.7 percent. In 2010, 97.2 percent of white students and 93.9 percent of black students graduated. These figures indicated an improvement of 22.1 percentage points in the graduation rate of black students and a drop from 20.7 percent down to 3.3 percent in the disparity of graduation rates between black and white students. However, in 2011, the graduation rate for white students dropped to 87.7 percent, a loss of 9.5 percentage points. And the graduation rate for black students dropped back to 72.5 percent, a loss of 21.4 percentage points, effectively wiping out all of the gains recorded in the preceding eight years.
The School Climate Survey conducted in 2009 provided an important update on the study that was completed in 2000. The 2009 study reported that perceptions had undergone little or no change in eight years. Black students still saw the school climate in “markedly more negative terms than whites.” Black high school students had the most negative view of school climate, followed by black staff members and black parents. According to the 2009 School Climate Survey Report, “African-American staff were over four times more likely than their white counterparts and African American parents were about three times more likely than their white peers to disagree that the Consent Decree had made too much of race.” In effect, they all agreed that the systems and procedures that were implemented as a result of the consent decree have not changed the negative perception of Unit 4 school climate by African-Americans.
In Unit 4 schools, the fact that black students have historically been underrepresented in gifted programs and honors courses was recognized as an “unwarranted disparity” in the consent decree. Although Culver has claimed that the disproportion of black and white students in gifted and honors programs has improved, the enrollment numbers suggest that the improvement has not been substantial when considered in light of overall black student enrollment. According to Unit 4’s report for 2011-2012, black student enrollment in elementary school gifted programs was 12 percent, while total black student enrollment was 34 percent. The report also noted that while total black enrollment at the middle school level had reached 38 percent, only 13 percent of middle school honors courses students were black. Elementary school gifted programs should have a minimum of 19 percent black student enrollment to reach the racial fairness guideline agreed upon in the consent decree. Middle schools should have 23 percent black enrollment in honors courses to meet the agreed upon minimum. Black enrollment in gifted and honors programs has fallen well short of the established goals.
Closing the achievement gap between black and white students was a primary goal of the consent decree. Indeed, Superintendent Culver claimed that this had been accomplished and further claimed that the performance level of all students had been raised. Unit 4 School Report Cards from 2002 through 2010, however, suggest something quite different. Contrary to Culver, claim, the percentage of all students meeting or exceeding performance level standards decreased from 64.8 percent in 2002 to S2.7 percent in 2010, a loss of more than 12 percentage points. In 2002, fewer than 25 percent of black students met or exceeded the standards, and in 2010, fewer than 26 percent did so. During that same eight-year period, the percentage of white students who met or exceeded the standards decreased in a number of important areas, including reading, with a loss of 4.3 percentage points and math, with a drop of 15.4 percentage points. These figures point to losses rather than gains in student achievement.
Superintendent Culver’s characterization of the consent decree settlement as a community success should be open to question. In 2002, white enrollment in Unit 4 schools was 60.7 percent, black student enrollment was 30.9 percent, and Hispanic and Asian enrollment was 8.4 percent. By 2010, white enrollment had dropped to 44.3 percent, black enrollment had risen to 38.1 percent, and Hispanic and Asian enrollment stood at 17.2 percent. White enrollment dropped by nearly a third, as white students moved to private schools and families moved to nearby communities, such as Mahomet, Tolono or Monticello. Due to “white flight,” those students identified as “minority” in 2002 had in 2010 become the majority. In what way could this be considered a community success? More importantly, how have these demographic changes affected other areas of concern addressed by the consent decree? The settlement agreement provided for the establishment of an Education Equity Excellence Committee to review and discuss equity issues and to monitor any changes in disparities. The agreement required the district superintendent to provide a public report on equity issues to the Education Equity Excellence Committee each semester. Why haven’t these reports been made readily available to the public? If the settlement of the consent decree was indeed a success, as Culver claimed, the taxpaying public deserves to know what actually happened during the eight years of the consent decree. Was the progress toward eliminating or reducing disparities between black and white student academic achievements cited by the judge really sufficient to meet the needs of Unit 4 students? If the consent decree settlement really was a success brought about by Superintendent Culver, why did The News-Gazette, on Jan. 1, 2012, report that his employment had been “terminated”?
Mike Woods is a retired Unit 4 teacher and administrator, a retired instructor at the University of Illinois, former president of the Champaign Federation of Teachers and former vice president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers.
[The above was scanned in, converted via FreeOnlineOCR.net and edited by hand to match the original – all mistakes are likely my own]