Chicago schools new admissions policy: Will best magnets become less diverse?

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In announcing a proposed new admissions policy for magnet and selective schools, district officials say they want to maintain diversity despite the recent scrapping of the desegregation consent decree. But the devil will be in the details: Can the district achieve that goal, especially in the most sought-after magnets, which have already become less diverse in recent years?

 

In announcing a proposed new admissions policy for magnet and selective schools, district officials say they want to maintain diversity despite the recent scrapping of the desegregation consent decree .

But the devil will be in the details: Can the district achieve that goal, especially in the most sought-after magnets, which have already become less diverse in recent years?

The proposed policy guarantees a seat to every brother and sister of a current student in a magnet school. That could eat up half of the open spots in some kindergarten programs.

After those seats are taken, half of the remaining spots are to be handed over to neighborhood kids–a significant change from the previous policy, which set aside only 35 percent of seats to local children. What’s left, and, in some cases there won’t be many seats left, will be awarded to students based on a lottery that factors in socio-economic status.

On one hand, these new policies are a boon to parents who may have complained that their children can’t attend the high-performing school across the street.

However, not all magnets are created equal, and the best of them are clustered in North Side, majority-white neighborhoods. Ten of the 15 highest-performing elementary magnet schools are in neighborhoods with a higher-than-average percentage of white residents, according to my analysis, which used 2000 Census data and 2009 test score data.  Eight of the 15 are in neighborhoods with higher-than-average Asian populations. 

Only two of these “crown jewels” is in a majority-black area, and none is in a majority-Latino neighborhood.

Currently, only three of the 15 enroll more than half of their students from within 1.5 miles of the school, according to my analysis of 2007 student addresses provided to Catalyst Chicago by the Consortium on Chicago School Research.

It will be interesting to see how the policy affects a school like Jackson Language Academy, the best of the magnet elementaries and the only one that made the list of the 50 best in the state. It is in the West Loop, a gentrifying neighborhood that was nearly 70 percent white in 2000 and 18 percent Asian.

In 2007, about a third of Jackson’s students lived nearby and its population was almost the perfect picture of diversity with 30 percent white, 30 percent Asian, 17 percent Latino and 17 percent black.

On top of the benefit granted by the proposed policy, neighborhood children will have another natural advantage. Given the CPS budget deficit, recently pegged as high as $700 million, it is doubtful that the district will pay for any busing. Currently, the district provides busing for those within 6 miles of selective enrollment and magnet schools.

I am just not sure how many poor families will be willing or able to drive or take public transportation to these schools.

Other details of the proposed new policy don’t raise immediate red flags, but could also have an impact down the road. About half of admissions in both magnet and selective enrollment schools will take into consideration a family’s socio-economic status. In other districts, such as San Francisco, using socio-economic status has led to whitening of the better magnet schools.

But CPS officials have devised what they say is a unique formula that uses updated census tract data (more recent than the 2000 Census) and puts additional weight on such factors as income and parental education. CPS spokeswoman Monique Bond says the district has to try the formula and see how it works.

Another change is that half of the seats in selective enrollment schools will be awarded purely on test scores. Under the previous desegregation order, once 35 percent of white students got in based on test scores they had to be skipped over for black and Latino students. This could provide somewhat of a boost to white and Asian students, if they do indeed outperform black and Latino students, but I don’t know if this is true.

Given all these changes, one thing that CPS officials decided to keep is the controversial policy that allows for 5 percent of students to gain admission without meeting specific criteria.

The new policy takes the 5 percent discretion out of the hands of principals and sends it downtown. Bond says that she does not know if CEO Ron Huberman is going to review the list of circumstances under which students can be granted discretion.

The proposed policy will be introduced at the Dec. 16 Board of Education meeting and will affect students who are currently applying for magnet and selective enrollment schools. Next year, the board will review the policy

The public will have a chance to ask questions about the proposed policy at four community meetings.

Bond seemed dubious about public input changing the policy and it seems pretty clear it is what the district will do for at least this year.

The proposed policy was devised by district officials who consulted Richard Kahlenberg, a Harvard-educated senior fellow from The Century Foundation, a progressive public research institute.


Crown jewels of magnets in mostly white neighborhoods

A look at the neighborhoods around the 15 highest performing magnets shows that 10 of 15 are in areas that are whiter than average. Data also shows that many take two-thirds of their students from outside their neighborhoods. New admission policies might change the make up of these schools.

 School           
 2009 ISAT
 White  Black Latino Asian Community 
 Students w/in 1.5 miles
 Jackson  98.4  68.0  6.8  13.9  18.2 Near W. Side
 33%
 Hawthorne  96.3  87.7  3.8  5.7  3.8 Lake View
 38%
 LaSalle  95.1  89.0  5.0  2.7  3.5 Lincoln Park
 28%
 Franklin  93.1  80.7  10.4  6.0  4.6 Near N. Side
 25%
 Wildwood  92.2  95.4  0.2  4.6  2.9 Forest Glen
 59%
 Stone  92.0  39.9  14.1  21.4  27.9 West Ridge
 71%
 Sheridan  91.9  32.2  0.3  14.7  58.3 Lake View
 46%
 Vanderpoel  90.0  40.0  55.8  2.5  0.4 Beverly  30%
 Owen  88.4  37.7  49.9  14.4  0 Ashburn  71%
 Galileo  88.1  56.7  5.8  14.4  27.4 Near W. Side  30%
 Murray  87.2  53.3  28.7  7.5  10.9 Hyde Park
 41%
 Pershing E.
 87.1  2.4  94.7  1.1  0 Douglas  35%
 Inter-American  86.7  85.0  2.6  6.1  7.0 Lake View
 8%
 Disney  86.7  76.0  9.8  5.9  8.7 Uptown  24%
 Newberry  85.7  80.0  15.5  2.2  2 Lincoln Park
 23%
 Chicago    42.0  30.8  26.0  4.3  

Source: 2000 Census, Chicago Public Schools and Consortium on Chicago School Research