Richard Kahlenberg via a kind reader’s email:
Sen. James Meeks’ (D-Chicago) proposed student boycott of Chicago public schools next month has sparked furious controversy. Should students miss their first day of class for the worthy goal of promoting equity in public school spending? Leaders such as Mayor Richard Daley and Chicago Public Schools Chief Arne Duncan are worried about the disruption involved as Meeks seeks to enroll Chicago students at New Trier High School in Winnetka.
Missing from the discussion is a bigger point: The main reason New Trier’s students achieve and graduate at much higher levels isn’t per-pupil expenditure; it’s differences in the socioeconomic status of the student bodies in Chicago and New Trier.
Decades of research have found that the biggest determinant of academic achievement is the socioeconomic status of the family a child comes from and the second biggest determinant is the socioeconomic status of the school she attends. The main problem with Chicago schools isn’t that too little is spent on students but that the school district has overwhelming concentrations of poverty.
In the 2005-06 school year, Chicago public schools spent $10,409 per pupil, much less than New Trier ($16,856), but slightly more than several high-performing suburban school districts, including ones in Naperville ($9,881) and Geneva ($9,807). The key difference is that while 84.9 percent of Chicago students come from low-income homes, New Trier has a low-income population of 1.9 percent, Naperville has 5 percent and Geneva 2.4percent.