CPS declines to release data on selective enrollment, sets aside more seats for minority students

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CEO Ron Huberman said Wednesday that he will not publicly release
racial and socio-economic data on the students who received offers to
attend the coveted selective enrollment high schools.

But, after his own review of the information, he is adding 25 seats to
each of the freshman classes of Whitney Young, Jones, Walter Payton and
Northside Prep and reserving them for students from the city’s worst
elementary schools, all of which serve only black, Latino and poor
students. These four high schools are the best ones in the district.

CEO Ron Huberman said Wednesday that he will not publicly release racial and socio-economic data on the students who received offers to attend the coveted selective enrollment high schools.

But, after his own review of the information, he is adding 25 seats to each of the freshman classes of Whitney Young, Jones, Walter Payton and Northside Prep and reserving them for students from the city’s worst elementary schools, all of which serve only black, Latino and poor students. These four high schools are the best ones in the district.

Huberman would not concede that the admissions process put in place this fall, which uses neighborhood socio-economics rather than race as a criterion, threw off the racial balance of the city’s elite selective high schools. But adding more seats so late in the game implies that this, indeed, is the case.

CPS, with the help of a consultant, devised the new admissions policy after a federal judge lifted the desegregation consent decree in September. The American Civil Liberties Union and grassroots activists disagreed with the district’s position, but officials said that they would face lawsuits if they used race as a factor for admissions. A U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2007 (involving the Seattle school district) severely restricted the use of race in school admissions.

At Wednesday’s press briefing, Huberman said very few students from the 87 worst elementary schools were admitted to the selective enrollment high schools, even though a cohort of their students had high standardized test scores that would make them competitive in these top-tier schools.

“This is an issue of fairness,” he said. The district has sent out letters to 336 students giving them a chance to apply for one of the 100 new seats opened in the four selective enrollment high schools.

About 80 percent of these 336 students had sent in an initial application for these schools, but for a myriad of reasons they were not offered a spot. Some had been denied. Others were offered seats in one of five other selective enrollment schools, which are not as competitive or diverse as Jones, Whitney Young, Walter Payton and Northside Prep. Some failed to show up to take the admissions test, and others did not complete their application.

To win one of the 100 additional spots, the students will be interviewed by the principal of the prospective school, and their grades and standardized test scores will be considered. But these students will not have to take the separate admissions test for selective schools.

The principals of the four selective enrollment high schools have agreed to take in these extra students and have been promised $250,000 each for tutoring, mentoring and other supports for the students.

Huberman is opening up these additional seats under a provision in No Child Left Behind that requires the district to let students from low-performing schools transfer to higher- performing schools.

In reality, such transfers are limited because CPS has so many schools that are poorly-performing and so few that meet federal standards. Last year, according to district data, 26,381 students were eligible to transfer, but only 1,393 students applied for a transfer and a mere 483 were offered the opportunity.

Magnet elementary schools have enrolled some NCLB transfers over the past decade, but such transfers will be a first for the coveted selective enrollment elementary and high schools.

Huberman’s move is a one-time deal. But in the future, NCLB transfers will be incorporated into the entire magnet and selective enrollment admissions process managed by the Office of Academic Enhancement, said Patrick Rocks, general counsel for CPS. He did not give details on how the office will accomplish this, but the move could include reserving some seats in the most competitive schools for top-scoring students from low-performing schools.

Because the worst schools have virtually no white or Asian students, reserving seats would be a back-door way of maintaining some racial diversity in elite schools, which have become less diverse in recent years.

When his new admissions policy was approved in December, facing a storm of skepticism from the community, Huberman promised he would look at who was admitted, do a gut-check and make adjustments, if needed. He also promised it would be an open and transparent process.

Wednesday’s announcement is an adjustment.

Now, we are waiting for the transparency.