Chicago is considering adopting a new admissions policy for its selective enrollment schools. The changes would allow children from lower-income families and poor neighborhoods a greater chance at acceptance into these high-demand education centers. A ranking system currently reduces opportunities for families that lack the resources and ability to navigate the complicated application process. Two potential solutions were brought before the board to adjust or even remove the current ranking structure. Before a formal proposal is presented to the Board of Education, the district is looking for feedback from parents, students, and school members to better understand how this would be received.
To keep race off the table in admissions and acceptance into the gifted, magnet, and selective schools, in 2009, a court required any questions regarding race be removed from the application process. Still, the schools must maintain a certain level of diversity within their student body. Chicago’s elite schools responded by utilizing a socio-economic ranking system to accommodate the court order. Today’s schools, however, are still less disparate than desired.
Why Is Change Necessary?
Selective enrollment schools were created for academically advanced kids, with the curriculum focused on preparing students for higher education. While this is an excellent option, it became apparent that admissions policies perhaps are biased in determining what kids are eligible to attend the high-ranking schools. Many talented and intelligent students have been overlooked because they live in the wrong neighborhood or do not come from wealthy families. With a student body primarily consisting of whites and Asians across all selective-enrollment schools in the city, the district felt it was time to consider a change.
“It means that a student living in a low-income neighborhood who has a high academic record, high test scores and high grades is equally as likely to get into a selective enrollment high school as a student who is from a higher-income neighborhood also with high test scores,” said professor and researcher Lauren Sartain.
What Would Change?
The current system fills 30% of its open seats based on kids’ seventh-grade academic performance. The other 70% are awarded to students based on a four-tiered system that uses demographic information to classify the kids. Tiers 1 and 2 are reserved for low-income families, while Tiers 3 and 4 represent those who live in higher-income areas. Each child is ranked within one of these tiers based on several variables, such as median family income, percentage of homeownership, and percent of the population that speaks a language other than English.
Chief Executive Officer of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Pedro Martinez introduced a new process that levels the playing field so underprivileged kids have the same opportunities as those who are more fortunate. There are two different proposals up for consideration. The first would continue to place 30% of the students based on academic performance, but the other 70% would be chosen evenly from the four-tier system. The second idea eliminates the ranking system altogether, meaning all open slots would be evenly filled by selecting students from all four tiers.
If accepted, the new admissions policies would not take effect until the 2023-2024 academic school year.
Read more from Kirsten Brooker.