CPS set to release new data on selective and magnet school admissions

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CPS officials will release on Tuesday the long-awaited racial diversity and socio-economic information on admissions to selective enrollment and magnet schools, and will announce a blue-ribbon committee to examine them.

CPS officials will release on Tuesday the long-awaited racial breakdowns of admissions to selective enrollment and magnet schools, and will announce a blue-ribbon committee to examine them.

The committee, which could recommend changes, will include activists and elected officials, such as Phil Jackson from the Black Star Project and City Clerk Miguel del Valle.

CPS was forced to change the admission process for selective and magnet schools when a federal judge lifted the 20-year-old desegregation consent decree last September. Rather than using race as a factor, the new admissions policy took into account a family’s socioeconomic status, determined by census tract.

Some activists and groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, had argued that race could still be considered, as long as it was not the major factor in deciding who was chosen. But district officials rejected that notion. Activists also worried that the city’s most coveted schools would become more disproportionately white, a trend that had already emerged in recent years. 

CPS Chief Administrative Officer Robert Runcie says the information will show that using socioeconomic status resulted in a similar racial makeup at the schools.

“The surprise is that you will see there was not a tremendous difference,” Runcie says. “Race still defines your socioeconomic status.”

Some selective enrollment high school principals, however, told Catalyst that their schools sent acceptance letters to remarkably fewer black male students. Runcie says that trend started before the admissions policy changed, and is a by-product of larger problems.

CPS officials have a lot at stake in proving that the new admissions process worked. The district paid more than $1 million to consultants to create the process, and CEO Ron Huberman expressed confidence that it would not throw off the racial balance at the schools.

Still, a couple signs of problems have already cropped up. In March, Huberman announced that he was opening up 25 additional seats in four selective enrollment schools, setting them aside for high-performing students from the lowest-achieving elementary schools, all of which are predominantly black or Latino. Huberman said he decided on the move after reviewing the racial makeup of the first round of admitted students, but would not release detailed information to the public.

Also, the admissions process seems to be dragging on longer than in previous year. When the first selective and magnet acceptance letters went out in March, Catalyst Chicago submitted Freedom of Information Act requests for information on the race and socioeconomic status of students who had won admission. That FOIA was denied, and the district stated that the “process was ongoing.”

In early July, another Catalyst FOIA request was denied because, according to FOIA officer Cassandra Daniels, the process was “still live.” Parents have also told Catalyst that, through mid-July, they have gotten calls and letters from selective enrollment and magnet schools saying that seats have opened up.

And even with confirmation that some data will be released on Tuesday, it remains to be seen whether it offers specific details about the racial makeup of admittance letters, which can tell the tale of whether the socio-economic based process worked.

Runcie says that the hold-up had to do with technical issues. He also noted that the process was started later this year than in previous years.