Would a move away from school choice in Chicago result in closing of gifted, magnet schools?
by BRIAN NADIG
The Chicago Board of Education has approved a resolution that sets parameters and values for a new five-year strategic plan that is expected to call for an emphasis away from selective enrollment, magnet and charter schools and for a push toward strengthening neighborhood schools.
The strategic plan has not been finalized and community input meetings will be held, but officials from the Chicago Public Schools have indicated that they are seeking improvements in neighborhood schools, especially in lower income communities.
The seven-member school board, which currently is appointed by the mayor, could vote on a final plan before an elected board takes over in 2025. Current plans call for a new 21-person board that will be partially elected and partially appointed, with a fully elected board by 2027.
One of the apparent goals would be to reduce the number of children who take advantage of the wide variety of “school choice” options in Chicago in an effort to provide a stronger overall focus on neighborhood schools, where more resources would be allocated.
The plan would mark a “bold and new transformational” drive to disrupt inequities in Chicago’s educational system, with an “eye toward equity,” school board vice president Elizabeth Todd-Breland said at the board’s Dec. 14 meeting.
Only about 46 percent of CPS elementary school children and about 23 percent of high school students reportedly attend their neighborhood school, which guarantees enrollment to any student who lives within its attendance boundaries.
Chicago includes stand-alone gifted schools, which require admissions testing, and magnet schools, whose selection includes a lottery. There are also gifted and magnet programs within neighborhood schools, including an International Baccalaureate Diploma Program and Seventh/Eighth Grade Academic Center at Taft High School in Norwood Park and a regional gifted center at Beaubien School in Jefferson Park.
CPS also has military academies, including Rickover Naval in Portage Park, and the school system oversees “contract” charter schools, such as Chicago Academy in the Belmont-Cragin area.
Mayor Brandon Johnson reportedly sends his children to magnet schools.
Alderman Nicholas Sposato (38th) said that he doubts the school system would shut down gifted and magnet schools, given their popularity and the large number of families it would impact.
“I think it would create … an uproar,” Sposato said.
Some concerns have been raised about the competitive nature of the selective enrollment selection process, especially admissions testing for younger children, and about the racial makeup of these schools, with some arguing they can be disproportionately White and Asian.
The racial makeup of Northside College Prep is about 59 percent White and Asian and about 49 percent at Lane Tech, according to state records. Both are popular selective enrollment high schools on the Northwest Side.
School choice in Chicago expanded greatly in the 1980s and 1990s as part of a desegregation decree, which at least initially led to white flight from the school system. At one time local enrollment was less than 10 percent at some Northwest Side schools, including Edgebrook and Wildwood. Several area schools expanded their special needs programs in order to fill classrooms.
For years Taft struggled to attract local children, and each year hundreds of students transferred in from the West Side.
By the mid-1990s some neighborhood schools on the Northwest Side were experiencing large gains in local enrollment, in part due to an influx of Eastern European families to Chicago after the fall of the Soviet Union.
In more recent years, local enrollment increased significantly at many area schools, including Taft, due in part to more Hispanic families moving into the area. About 44 percent of Taft’s enrollment is Hispanic and 42 percent White, and about 90 percent of its 4,250 student live in its attendance center or preference zone, which was created about five years ago near its new freshman campus in Dunning.
The resolution approved by the school board
on Dec. 14 includes the following:
“While the most recent data for the School Year 2022-2023 demonstrate significant strides towards our collective goal of providing high-quality public education for every child in every neighborhood in Chicago, the data also show we are still confronted with long-standing challenges and opportunity gaps across a broad range of indicators and outcomes, particularly for Black students, Latinx students, students with disabilities, students in temporary living situations, and English learners, coupled with an approximately $600 million structural deficit, over $14 billion in facilities needs, and a decrease of approximately eighty thousand students over the last decade; and “Whereas, despite a myriad of education reforms over the course of many CPS strategic plans, these challenges and gaps have persisted. These opportunity gaps are driven by long-standing structural racism and socio-economic inequality, and differences in how students are situated in relation to the educational system and our universal goals.
“This is the foundation upon which our current school choice system was built – an under resourced system that has pitted schools against each other and has had the effect of sorting students based on performance outcomes and selective admissions criteria, which ultimately reinforces, rather than disrupts, cycles of inequity.”
The strategic plan could make recommendations on how schools are funded in effort to provide more resources for neighborhood schools in lower income areas.
In a related matter, school bus service for general education students who attend a gifted or magnet program is not being offered due to a driver shortage. Free CTA bus passes are being offered to the impacted students.
Meanwhile, school bus service is being provided for special needs students as required.