Selective Enrollment High School Scandal? You knew this one was coming….

July 23, 2009 at 9:16 am 16 comments

While the whole U of I thing played out, in the back of my mind I had to wonder if the same thing has been going on with Chicago selective enrollment high schools.   The high schools are probably HARDER to get into than most universities and unlike colleges, there aren’t a wide ranges of choices available.  And you don’t have to worry about your child becoming a gang member if they don’t get into certain colleges.

So thanks to a couple readers for posting the links it does in fact look like clout and connections have been used to get kids into these top high schools.

For those who haven’t heard of the high school admissions process yet (expect me to be blogging about it big time in 6-7 years) there is a scoring process that’s used to get in the schools.  Scores are based on grades, 7th grade ISAT test scores, and attendance.  There is a formula used to rank students for admission.  North Side College Prep is the hardest to get into.  That school has the highest test scores of any IL high school.  Others that are highly coveted are Whitney Young and Walter Peyton.

In theory, CPS goes down the ranked list offering spots just as they do for the Gifted/Classical elementary programs.  But from what I’ve heard a kid pretty much knows ahead of time which school/s they have a shot at based on their score.  So although there are tons of applications, most of them probably don’t stand a chance of getting in due to their grades or test scores.  It’s always been competitive to get in but now with more people wanting to stay in the city the pipeline will get even more clogged.  The kids who are getting in have nearly all A’s, top ISAT scores, and miss only a day or 2 in 7th grade (why yes, there are tons of sick 7th graders being sent to school – call it survival of the fittest.)  It can make a parent want to crack down big time or just give up now when you see what it takes to get in those schools.

So of course it makes sense that people with connections use them.  The thing that makes this slightly less objectionable to me thant the U of I scam is that in Chicago each principal gets to fill 5% of their spots using their “discretion.”  So at least CPS is open about this.    I was surprised to hear that this applies to selective enrollment high schools (since I don’t think it applies to gifted/classical schools that also require testing for admission) but it does work that way.  So a principal can select a student who makes a good case to get in (good grades, strong leadership, but doesn’t perform well on standardized tests,) a parent could make a case for the family (mom is a scientist and will help lead a science initiative at the school,) or hey, maybe even money talks.  The thing is that CPS schools desparately need these resources so to some extent I get the discretion thing.  Schools even need the support of local politicians for things like extra funding, new programs, etc.  Is it wrong to help out the Alderman’s kid if that means getting a great resource on your side?  Maybe, maybe not.  Having Michael Jordon’s son at Whitney Young certainly brought the school (and even CPS) good attention. Hmmm… does blogging about CPS get me points or does it get me on some shit-list?  Must ponder that one.

I’ll be curious to see how this pans out and who has pulled strings to get students in (and how sub-par they are.)  I’m also curious to see if those students could actually cut it in these top schools.  I’m sure the local press will be revealing more soon.

Entry filed under: Applying to schools, High school. Tags: .

CPS Gifted Programs in jeopardy? A glimpse at schools in the outside world

16 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Y  |  July 23, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    There is one other component to a student’s “score.” There’s a test for the selective enrollment high schools. The maximum total score is 1000. I believe the breakdown is 300 for ISAT, 300 for grades, 300 for selective enrollment test, and 100 for attendance. The attendance component has been relaxed some over the past year. It used to require perfect attendance to get 100. I think they now allow two or three excused absences and the student still gets 100.

    At the grade school level, principals do not usually have any pull for spots in the regional gifted centers or classical schools since those are centrally administered. They do have the 5% discretionary spots for a co-located neighborhood program and probably for gifted programs (non-RGC). There was a report (Sun-Times, I think) that said the Edison principal had the non-discretionary spot clause included in her contract enacted by the LSC.

    What would be more interesting is to investigate the lottery system at full magnet schools such as Hawthorne, which doesn’t have explicit criteria for admission.

  • 2. obsessed with this blog  |  July 24, 2009 at 10:00 pm

    I agree, would love to see a look at schools like Hawthorne – might be less prevalent now but I’m pretty sure they would find some very interesting things – possibly disproportionate #’s of kids in the immediate area in, excessive lobbying by parents to get in that can pay off, disproportionate # of siblings in (maybe not a bad thing, but in violation of the rules), do they really meet the minority % dictated. I could go on….don’t know anything for sure but can say for sure that I experienced myself that the process is far from transparent both on Hawthornes’ part and on the part of the OAE downtown – and that there are plenty of kids in there that were not selected via lottery. More than 5%? – I would guess yes.

  • 3. another mommy  |  July 31, 2009 at 8:47 am

    I had a feeling Hawthorne would come up in this conversation. I totally understand some people’s frustration in this area. Imagine living right down the street from an excellent, top rated school that your property taxes help support, but can’t your child in that school. I would be livid! We made it in Hawthorne, through the lottery. When I read that there is a 2-3% acceptance rate, I began thinking the lottery gods were definitely on our side (as my son also got into Franklin Fine Arts, and Burley). Everyone is always totally impressed that we made it in there. When I told his doctor where he was going she was totally impressed, and said, “Wow! You must’ve known someone to get you in.” We are minority, so I am guessing that has something to do with it.

  • 4. cpsobsessed  |  July 31, 2009 at 11:59 am

    I had heard in the past year or so that schools like Hawthorne and Stone had really come under scrutiny for their discretionary admission practices so that they’d shaped up a lot in recent years. From what I understand, there is a date (official or unofficial) after which schools don’t have to follow the lottery list any more. Something like June 30th maybe?
    I have a friend who’s child was #4 on the Hawthorne lottery (is there a girl lottery and boy lottery?) a couple years ago and never got called. I also heard of a family from our PreK who supposedly got their kid into Hawthorne by calling over the summer and saying the right thing (whatever that may be.) Personally I wish they’d have to stay with the list but it’s just one of the problems in a big, underfunded system: who has the time to enforce it?

  • 5. Peggy  |  August 1, 2009 at 6:13 pm

    We were accepted into Hawthorne this fall and are ecstatic. That said, we do not know anyone nor do we have any connections. We are a family that might have logically listed our child as minority, but decided not to, so getting in as a majority child was even more surprising. Even with applying as a caucasian student, my daughter was lucky to get accepted into 5 schools (magnets or good neighborhood) and 1 classical (Skinner…we opted not to take that option).
    I know that the principal at Hawthorne is fairly new within the last few years and maybe is less influenced than the last one allegedly was. But rumors fly around CPS a lot, so who knows?

  • 6. Y  |  August 4, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    This was on WBEZ today.

  • 7. WZ  |  August 13, 2009 at 7:32 pm,CST-NWS-clout13.article
    I’m sure people have heard of the alderman who called to get his daughter into Whitney Young though her scores didn’t qualify. This may or may not be a bad thing ( I lean more towards it being unfair) but I was a bit turned off by one thing; one of the criteria for the principal”s discretion for hand-selecting students is based on a having a sibling at that school so that it is more convenient on the parents. The alderman has a son who graduated from the school and is no longer there, making that point irrelevant. And the mayor coming to his defense and saying he didn’t use clout for his children isn’t entirely true. He used clout with one of his kids this year in getting them into one of the city’s institutions for higher learning; but I guess getting kids into undergrad & grad programs happens more regularly and is more readily accepted. It still doesn’t make it right.

  • 8. jc  |  August 29, 2009 at 11:24 pm

    I don’t understand what the hype is about hawthorne. Is there a bigger percentage of students that get into the selective high schools? I too, have 2 children (twins) who have gotten into the selective high schools this year and came from a chicago public school which was not a magnet school but a local elementary school. When i first moved to Chicago in 1998, I was amazed about this whole ordeal of Hitting a lottery to get your child (children in my case) into an elementary school. I always thought schools should be based on entrance exams or district in which one lived. Well to make a long story short, one got into Payton and the other into Whitney, of course I am proud but the bottom line is ……What happened during the years they attended elementary school. Did I push them, yes…..Did I spend endless nights and weekends helping them understand things they couldn’t. Did I try to hire tutors when I couldn’t teach them….Yes. Did I instill into them the importance of education…..Yes, I feel this is only the beginning of what they will have to do for their future. These selective high schools are hard and they will have to work hard. No I am not wealthy, but I do work 2 jobs to make sure that they have every opportunity that I never had,,, I do try to tell them that life is hard, every step of the way .

  • 9. stacey  |  November 3, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    Magnet schools such as Hawthorne need not keep students who fall below stanine 5 on the standardized exams. In practice, this means children who score poorly on the ISATs or who otherwise have learning deficits are “encouraged” to find another school. Consequently, Hawthorne’s test scores are artificially high, particularly in the upper grade because the herd has been culled. This should logically result in higher acceptance rates at the SEHS, given the statistical model for admissions (all but attendance being a performance-based number and attendance is now eliminated).

  • 10. Marc Sims  |  December 9, 2009 at 6:56 am

    Why can’t we make the neighborhood high schools as good as the selective enrollment high schools?

    Marc Sims

  • 11. Phuc Hoang  |  March 16, 2010 at 10:36 pm

    Well i got accepted into Whitney Young Magnet Cluster. I mean it is pretty hard to get into, but it really does depend on the students. If he/she works hard, then surely enough, they will get in. I mean i haven’t even been in America that long, and i scored a pretty mean number on the test. Btw the test only goes up to maximum of 900. They took out the attendance record due to the fact that, last year, when I was in 7th grade, there were many students sick and absent. This was because the Swine Flu(H1N1) was going around. So yeah. WELL, YAY i got accepted xD!!

  • 12. cpsobsessed  |  March 16, 2010 at 10:51 pm

    Congratulations Phuc!

  • 13. Anthony  |  February 16, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    I got into Northside College prep in 2009, and I am now a sophomore here. It’s a good school, and it really does help to be a smart determined student. I didn’t know about all this corruption in the school systems, and I don’t really find it fair that magnet or charter schools have any sort of pull so that minorities have an easier acceptance. The lottery is supposed to be random right? Northside is test based, and even that has a bias to help minorities. Have have a friend that didn’t get in because she was white, but she got higher scores than a lot of kids here.
    I am currently in a class that is investigating charter schools and trying to find out more about them. Could you perhaps post any links that you have regarding this corruption, charter schools, or magnet schools? That would be really helpful, as we would like to know as much as possible.
    Thankyou, and good luck to all planning on enrolling in a school’s lottery or taking a school’s test.
    BTW, If you are interested in this blog, you should watch waiting for superman. It is a very interesting and informative movie.

  • 14. cpsobsessed  |  February 16, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    Hi Anthony, thanks for checking out the blog.
    The current Tier system that is used in the lottery is based on socio-economic ranking rather than race. The idea is that kids who come from more economically challenged families may not have had as many resources or educated parents, etc to help them with their education over the years, so they deserve to compete against similar kids when applying to schools. If the selective schools didn’t use this tier system, a lot of the kids who get in would be from Tier 3-4 where they grew up having more ‘advantages.” In theory, the selection process pulls the top kids from each Tier, which should be the top kids in the city, given their backgrounds.

    The “corruption” in the selection process is related to a long-standing policy that principals has some spots that they could fill however they wanted to. Many of them gave spots to kids of politicians or friends or anyone they liked (regardless of whether the kid had the scores needed to get in.) It seems corrupt to many of us, but was actually CPS policy for a long time.

    In regards to the charter schools, are you looking for information on how well the perform compared to regular CPS schools? If so, this post has some information:

    Also, this is a good site to get data about CPS schools:

    Thanks again for reading and let me know if you have any more question or if you’d like to share your class’s findings about charter schools.

  • 15. FreshieAtPayton  |  January 14, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    I have friends who have gotten in using principals discretion. I know 2 friends who got into Lane and wanted to go to Whitney, thy both live in tier 4. I wanted to say, its not all about clout, they worked hard to get into Whitney and one of them was torn apart by not getting in originally. Principals discretion means you write a letter about yourself/why you should be at ___ school. you also may submit up to 3 letters of recommendation. Strategies i know people have used are mentioning legacy, previous school (elem.), sports, and by choosing people with power or status (like principles) to wright letters.
    At my high school i know of one (i don’t know the others) student who got in on principals discretion, she originally got into Whitney, where her brother goes. At Walter Payton she is doing fine, no one would assume she got in using principals discretion except for the fact that she told us.
    So basically my point is the students who get in (or try) using principals discretion ALL work hard to get in, its not just given to them and the ones who are selected thrive at whatever school they chose because when it comes down to it principals are selecting who looks promising, not necessarily who has the top scores but as a person and a student.

  • 16. TruthB.Told  |  January 23, 2012 at 11:28 am

    To the individual who commented about clout and corruption being used so that ‘minorities’ can gain admission into selective enrollment schools, please educate yourself. Clout and corruption are used by minority AND non-minority parents (whites in particular) to gain admission. I could speak ad nauseum about whites who have used money, political influence and sheer guile to get ahead in life (historically and present day), but I won’t because I don’t think you are wise enough or mature enough to appreciate it. I’ll just say this, don’t presume that your ‘white’ friend did not gain admission because a ‘minority’ was admitted over your friend. Perhaps there was just not enough spots, or other criteria was used that excluded your friend. Selective enrollment schools also want well-rounded individuals, not just individuals who managed to cram for a test and do well, got high grades throughout grade school or who are simply white. Selective enrollment schools want a mix of intellect, as well as other things that will contribute to the overall student body. While grades are extremely important and one way of measuring success, it it just that: one way of measuring success. A more significant question is how would you know the scores of all of the minority students unless you were privy to the scores or unless they shared their scores with you (which I doubt)? Your comment is based on your superiority complex (probably passed on from your parents) in thinking that if a white student did not get accepted it was because a minority student (who you presume had lower scores) was accepted. It’s commendable that you were accepted into a selective enrollment school, and based on your writing, you appear to be a fairly bright student, but do yourself a favor, learn to think for yourself, investigate all of the facts instead of listening to rhetoric, and don’t make assumptions. The sad thing is that you will likely pass your attitude onto to your kids, thus perpetuating this idea that whites should be admitted because they necessarily score better and if a white student is not accepted into a selective enrollment school (or good college) it must have been because a minority was accepted. Hopefully, during your time in high school you will learn to think more critically.

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