My name is Zarinah Ali and I’m writing to bring to light an ongoing issue of equity within CPS regarding admission to the district’s top selective schools. The courts threw out a 30-year-old desegregation decree which used race as a factor for maintaining racial balance in the schools. The public schools vowed to maintain balance along economic lines in place of the old decree.

The problem is this: Somewhere in the process of maintaining “balance” and instituting the “Census Tract/Tier System” based on neighborhood economics, higher-achieving, lower-income minorities like my daughter are being shortchanged.

We are not a family of means, but instead live in affordable housing. We are, however, a family who values academics and a family in which all three minority children are excellent standardized test-takers. Our oldest has been on the honor roll for eight years. For this, we have been shown the door by CPS’ new policies and the Office of Access and Enrollment.

We applied only to the top four selective enrollment schools–Northside, Payton, Young, and Jones–because the academic and social climate in these schools is more in line with what my daughter’s needs are.  We chose not to apply to other selective enrollment, magnet and charter high schools for a number of reasons. Some schools have a plethora of social issues we would rather avoid. Other schools have lower test scores, or embellished standardized test rankings. In addition, most of the other schools are not in a reasonable travel distance from our home.

Because we live in a higher-income census tract, my daughter would have had to score a perfect 900 to even be considered at Whitney Young, Walter Payton or Northside Prep. She scored an 857, so her only option was to apply for principal discretion–and be rejected again.

Our neighborhood high school is Wells. There have been issues with violence, gangs, drugs and academics at the school, well before we were even aware of its existence. My belief is that schools should be safe and conducive to learning. I don’t want to do a disservice to my daughter by putting her life and/or safety at-risk in an underperforming school. She is a fan of musician Yann Tiersen, classical piano and literature, and is an Asian culture enthusiast. She’s also a bit immature for 13. Wells High School would literally eat her alive!

I think the use of a single application would definitely streamline the application process–for central office application processors and not necessarily families. For instance, will a second or third choice rank-ordered school reject qualified students who didn’t select them as top choice?

Also, students now can only apply to one school for principal discretion—what happens with that process? There is supposed to be “transparency,” but there are just too many question marks.

I do not believe there is anything equitable about a process that drives students like test-taking workhorses. My daughter rose to the challenge, performed well and helped to boost CPS’ test scores during her years in elementary school. She now happens to live in Tier 4, but also be a minority from a family of very modest means. For this, she’s been shown the door.

Zarinah Ali

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