Chicago aims to revamp its admissions policy for selective enrollment schools

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CHICAGO — Chicago Public Schools plans to change its highly competitive selective enrollment school admissions to make the process fairer for low-income students.

Under a recently unveiled proposal, the district could scrap its ranking system for high-demand schools — a change it would roll out for the 2023-24 school year.

The effort aims to provide more opportunities for low-income students from disadvantaged communities to enroll in the district’s selective-enrollment elementary and secondary schools, which offer rigorous curricula and are among the highest-ranked schools in the state. and, in some cases, the country.

“When we look at the enrollment patterns at these schools, we find that communities with fewer resources are underrepresented,” CEO Pedro Martinez said in a video discussing the proposed changes.

Advocates have long called for changes to the selective enrollment process, arguing that it excludes talented students whose families may lack the resources and know-how to navigate high-stakes applications.

They say the pandemic has added pressure and uncertainty to an already intense — and sometimes demoralizing — process for students and their families. Some have argued that the district needs to open the process at a time when the COVID disruption has only widened disparities based on race and family income.

About 30% of places in selective-enrollment schools are currently allocated strictly on the basis of test results and the student’s grades in seventh grade. Those seats primarily went to affluent, white and Asian American students, even though Latino and black students make up the majority of the district’s student body, according to the district.

Of those seats, the vast majority — about 85% of elementary schools and 73% of high schools — go to families at the most affluent levels, the district said.
The remaining 70% of seats are divided between four socio-economic levels. The district considers where students live in the city in addition to their academic achievement. Students from community areas with the lowest median family income, homeownership rates, and education levels are given priority for admission.

Chicago Public Schools has more than 15,700 students enrolled in selective enrollment high schools.

As part of the proposal, the district is asking the board to reconsider the process and has recommended two options:

  • Remove the 30% rank and distribute all seats equally among students from communities that fall into four socio-economic levels under the district system.
  • Maintain the 30% of seats for top-scoring students, regardless of socioeconomic status, but direct more of the remaining seats to students from the most disadvantaged areas of the city.

“With fairness as a core value, our district is strongly committed to adjusting this process,” Sherly Chavarria, chief teaching and learning officer, said in the same video to parents.

CPS officials are seeking input from parents as they consider changes to the selection process. The district has created a website to gather feedback and provide additional information to parents, students and teachers to determine how it is moving forward and whether to formally propose changes to the school board.

“Improving the selection process for our selective enrollment schools is a big step forward in helping every student reach their potential,” Martinez said in a video, “ensuring that every CPS student in every neighborhood receiving a world-class education and creating a more equitable neighborhood for all of our families.

Mauricio Peña is a reporter for Chalkbeat Chicago, covering K-12 schools. Contact Mauricio at [email protected]

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational changes in public schools.

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