Double Shifts

What was a double shift? One response to overcrowded school districts was to place schools on double shifts, meaning that students attended school in two shifts of four hours each. Although many white schools were on double shifts, after World War II, the board of education most often instituted double shifts in African American schools.

Where were the double-shift schools? The maps above show the changes in the use of double shifts. Note that in the first four maps, the double-shift schools (indicated by the blue stars) are located in relationship to the areas where African Americans made up more than 25% of the population in 1956. In 1930, fifty Chicago schools were on double shift, and only five of those were in black neighborhoods. In 1940, in contrast, all fourteen double-shift schools were in black communities. During the late 1940s and 1950s, greatly increased birthrates, the movement of Chicago’s white population into communities on the edges of the city, and the mass migration of black southerners to Chicago increased the number of schools on double shifts again. By 1954, the CPS had twenty-eight double-shift schools, fifteen of which were either in or on the edge of black neighborhoods. By 1957, the number of double-shift schools had shot up to forty-two, and all of them were either in or on the edges of expanding black neighborhoods. In 1960, the number of students on double shifts increased to a record of 33,452, although the next year the number of double-shift schools dropped to eighteen. By June 1962, new school construction, mobile classrooms, and mid-year graduations had reduced double shifts to about 4,300 students in six schools, and the next year, Willis eliminated double shifts altogether.

Was there a racial disparity? The final map, from John Coons’ 1962 report on Chicago Public Schools for the U.S. Civil Rights Commission indicates the schools (marked by dots) that had been taken off of double shifts by 1950, and the schools (marked by stars) that were still practicing the double shift. Coons argued that the pattern revealed the school administrations conscious effort to take white schools off the double shift before black schools. Indeed, although black students were in the minority in Chicago Public Schools until the 1960s, they made up more than fifty percent of all students on double shifts at any time between 1940 and 1960. Moreover, by 1961, nearly all of the students in double-shift schools were black.

Defense and Denunciation of Double Shifts: Willis defended the double shift policy by arguing that the city’s nearly unparalleled rate of population growth and mobility demanded drastic measures. He also suggested that the double shift merely eliminated the lunch period and recess time so students lost only about forty to fifty minutes of instruction time each day, while under the double shift teachers had more flexibility and more time to plan their classroom activities. Critics countered by arguing that, at the very least, shorter school days raised the burden on parents to find childcare and increased the potential for juvenile delinquency. In addition, they pointed to the racial disparities in double-shifts. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, when school administrators used the double shift almost exclusively in black schools, critics argued that the double shift had become a tool of segregation because black students were forced to take shorter school days in overcrowded facilities while white schools had unused classrooms available.