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Chicago's best high schools: Who gets in, who doesn't

Chicago has four elite public high schools. They’re the highest scoring schools in the state, better than top suburban schools. Competition to get is fierce, and ratcheted up again this year. WBEZ looks at who gets into Chicago’s best schools, and who does not.

Even if you don’t live in the city you can probably name at least one of Chicago’s top high schools: Whitney Young, Northside College Prep, Walter Payton, Jones.

Now, take a guess: what percent of freshmen sitting in those schools today graduated from private grammar schools?

LABOWITZ: I mean, that Payton number blows my mind. That just seems so high. That one-third of the kids entering that school are from private school.

That’s Rebecca Labowitz, who runs a blog called CPS Obsessed.

There’s a lot of anxiety this time of year—kids getting acceptance letters, or not. WBEZ analyzed the current freshman classes at Chicago’s top four high schools for some idea of what’s happening.

We found that 29 percent of current freshmen at Walter Payton College Prep graduated from private grammar schools. At the other elite high schools, the number is right around 20 percent.

Texas had a situation a little bit like Chicago’s. Its public universities admitted kids every year based mostly on test scores and grades. Students from good schools and bad schools competed against each other for limited seats. In the late 1990s, that changed. University of Texas spokesman Matt Flores:

FLORES: Lawmakers came up with this Top 10 Percent Rule, which effectively says if you graduate in the top 10 percent of your high school class, you would be guaranteed admission to the school of your choice—to the public institution of your choice.

Flores says kids don’t control what zip code they live in, and the new system rewards them for doing well at whatever school they attend.

FLORES: There were actually some high schools in the far reaches of Texas that in their histories had never sent a single student to UT-Austin. And I know that since that time, many of those high schools—if not all—have now sent at least somebody to UT.

Chicago Public Schools enrollment chief Katie Ellis says Chicago considered a system like that when it switched admissions criteria two years ago.

ELLIS: The challenge becomes, these students still are going to have to compete at very, very challenging environments....We try to come up with a careful balance between letting in the top scoring students in the city but also having socio-economic diversity, and those are sometimes contradictory.

Sadler, the principal from Brown Elementary near the Horner Homes, says she’d love a system that gave her hardest working students an equal opportunity to go to Chicago’s best high schools.

Until then, she says, Brown will just have to get better faster than more privileged schools.

Source for data in all tables is Chicago Public Schools. More extensive feeder school information is available in the Excel file below, under EXTRAs.

 

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