Parents wanting to know about the competition for their children to get into the district’s elite schools should be able find out more by clicking on some documents just posted on the CPS website


Parents wanting to know about the competition for their children to get into the district’s elite schools should be able find out more by clicking on some documents just posted on the CPS website

The information on the website for the Office of Academic Enhancement shows parents how to find their census tract and provides access to a map and chart with information on the demographics that will factor into admissions decisions under the district’s new policy on magnet and selective enrollment schools. (Warning: the links to the documents were live for a while on Wednesday, but then went dead and still don’t seem to be working Wednesday night. I am hoping the problem will be fixed by Thursday morning.) 

Under the proposed admissions policy, about half of seats will be awarded based on socioeconomic factors in a family’s surrounding community. Students will be divided into four categories based on factors such as median income and level of education in their census tract, an area of about a couple blocks determined by the U.S. Census.

Kathyrn Ellis, the project manager for the proposed policy, says the Office of Academic Enhancement has fielded several phone calls from people asking what category their family will fall into. The process is bound to be confusing for many parents, since as most Chicagoans know, two blocks some neighborhoods can include mansions with upper-middle class families as well as Section 8 apartments. 

The proposed admissions policy will replace the one that was laid out in the federal desegregation consent decree, lifted after 20 years in late September. 

While the district maintains that it can no longer use race as a factor in admissions, Ellis says CEO Ron Huberman and other district officials are committed to maintaining diversity.   

The policy has confused some parents and angered some aldermen at a recent City Council committee hearing. Much of the discussion has centered on aspects of the proposal that give siblings guaranteed spots in magnet schools and half of available seats to children in the neighborhood. Under the old policy, siblings were not guaranteed seats and neighborhood children got just 30 percent of open slots.

In selective enrollment schools, half of the seats will be awarded based solely on test scores.

In community hearings, parents said they were worried that setting aside more than half the spots in magnet schools for siblings and neighborhood children would shut children of color out of the better magnet schools. As Catalyst Chicago reported the day the proposed policy was announced, 11 of the 15 highest-performing magnets are in communities that have more white residents than the citywide average, including schools such as Franklin Fine Arts on the Near North Side and Newberry Academy in Lincoln Park.

Ellis says that these concerns were echoed at a presentation to aldermen, some of them asserting that middle-class black families would lose out in this scenario.

Before the board takes up the proposed magnet and selective enrollment school admissions policies at their Dec. 16 board meeting, Ellis says she and other district officials will reconsider whether the plan to reserve more seats for siblings and neighborhood children makes sense. 

However, she says that district officials still think it is the right direction. She also says that within the week, the district will be releasing documents that show the socioeconomic status of current students at magnet selective enrollment schools and how it will change under the new policy. She says the models show much the status quo is maintained.

Sarah is the deputy editor of Catalyst Chicago.

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