Magnet schools:

Set-asides favor wealthy areas

“Access to Magnet Schools in Chicago,” from the Consortium on Chicago School Research and the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), looks at the first results of magnet school policies adopted by the School Board in 1998. Among the report’s findings:

The policy of reserving magnet school slots for neighborhood children favors families in the wealthier sections of the city, which have the highest concentrations of magnet schools: the Loop, the Near West Side and the north lakefront from the Gold Coast to Lake View. After this and other special attendance considerations, only one magnet school slot in five remains open.

Almost half of public school students do not live within the set-aside area of any magnet school, a finding that applies equally to blacks, whites and Latinos. Low-income African- American neighborhoods on the South Side, Latino neighborhoods and middle-income white neighborhoods on the Northwest and Southwest sides have the least access.

The set-aside policy has not yet altered integration patterns at elementary magnets; the full impact won’t be seen until 2005, when all magnet school students will have been selected under the policy.

About half of elementary magnets do not meet their desegregation goals; following declines in white enrollment in the 1990s, this group is 93 percent minority. Magnet schools in the wealthier areas of the city, as a group, have more white students and, thus, are more racially diverse.

Significantly more high-achieving students are staying in the Chicago Public Schools for high school. The number of high-achieving students who left dropped from 27 percent in 1995 to 17 percent in 1999.

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Ending social promotion:

Early retention up, dropout rate steady

“Update: Ending Social Promotion,” from the Consortium on Chicago School Research, sums up new data from 1997-98 and 1998-99, the second and third years of the Board of Education’s promotion and retention policies.

One new finding is that more students are being held back in 1st and 2nd grades. Although the trend has contributed to higher pass rates in 3rd grade, researcher Melissa Roderick, the report’s principal author, worries that the practice eventually will force the retained students into transition centers rather than help them graduate from a regular 8th grade. “There is no evidence” that early retention will help the children academically, she says. If they are held back again, they will be on track for a transition center.

The report also finds that although retained 8th-graders are dropping out in large numbers—29 percent after two years—overall dropout rates have not increased, even among low- achieving students. That finding surprised Roderick because other research generally shows that retention produces higher dropout rates. She adds that Chicago won’t know if it has broken this link until third-year data are analyzed. So far, retention has produced more dropouts in 8th grade, where many retained students are now stuck until they reach 16.

Most of the report’s other findings reinforce previously reported trends. Like previous reports, the document draws no policy conclusions. Highlights include:

Larger numbers of at-risk students are doing well on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, especially in grades 6 and 8, than before the policy was implemented. In addition, students who post higher scores during the benchmark gradess of 3, 6 and 8 maintain the increase in subsequent years.

More students in grades 3, 6, and 8 were hitting the cut scores for promotion; however, the retention rates in those grades were not changing, possibly because fewer waivers were being given.

Retained students still are not doing better than similar students who previously were socially promoted. Many retained students do not reach cut scores even after repeating a grade and repeating Summer Bridge.

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Achievement up:

Two reforms credited

“Changes in Student Achievement in Illinois and Chicago: 1990-2000,” by G. Alfred Hess, Jr., a Northwestern University researcher, sums up the results of the last decade’s school reform efforts in Chicago. Hess finds that:

Overall, achievement in both elementary and high schools is up significantly, with most schools making large or very large gains in the number of students scoring at or above national norms in reading. He sees both the 1988 Chicago School Reform Act, which emphasized local control, and its 1995 amendments, which put the mayor in charge of the schools and emphasized accountability, as having contributed to the gains.

In high schools, “virtually all” of the gains reflect the fact that students are arriving at high school better prepared. Hess also notes that a practice he has called “educational triage”—the sorting of high-scoring kids into one set of schools and low-scoring kids into another—persists.

Gains in achievement have not reached all populations equally, with predominantly African- American schools showing the lowest rates of gain. In addition, gains in reading appear to be flattening out citywide.

The state’s testing program (IGAP/ISAT) has failed to provide a meaningful measure of changes in student achievement, which Hess attributes to problems in the way the test is produced.

On the web at:


Funds fall short, crowding persists

“Overcrowding and School Repair: 2000 Update,” by the Neighborhood Capital Budget Group, looks at school overcrowding in Chicago’s public schools, updating the group’s 1999 report, “Rebuilding Our Schools: Brick by Brick.” It includes the latest school-by-school data on overcrowding. Among the findings:

176 schools are overcrowded, with 54 percent of high school students and 38 percent of elementary school students attending overcrowded buildings.

Even after city borrowing and hoped-for state and federal support, the school system is likely to fall at least a billion dollars short of the money it needs to relieve overcrowded buildings and repair dilapidated schools.

On the web at:

Also now on-line:

“Small Schools: Great Strides: A Study of New Small Schools in Chicago,” from Bank Street College of Education, finds that breaking up large schools into smaller units has had some positive effects in Chicago.


“Progress Report: An Evaluation of Chicago Public Schools Efforts to Relieve Student Overcrowding at Elementary Schools,” from MALDEF, gives the Board of Education an overall grade of “C” for its efforts; however, the board receives an “A” on its efforts to relieve the most severely overcrowded buildings.


The latest “Annual CPS Test Trend Review,” from the Consortium on Chicago School Research, finds long-term improvement, but notes that gains are slowing, especially among younger students.


“School Improvement with External Partners,” from the Consortium on Chicago School Research, evaluates partnerships formed through Annenberg Challenge grants in the last several years, finding limited success.


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