Students Covet Half Of Chicago’s High Schools While 10 Get Few Takers | WBEZ
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Demand High For Half Of Chicago’s High Schools While 10 Schools Get Few Applicants

Data from Chicago Public Schools’ new universal high school application, rolled out last year, shows that 10 schools got virtually no interest from students, and after two rounds of offers, less than a dozen students officially claimed spots at each of those 10 schools.

Meanwhile, 90 percent of students want to go to just half of all Chicago public high schools, according to CPS data released Thursday and analyzed by WBEZ.

Community activists and some principals had worried this new application system would heighten competition between high schools and that the data would be used to close schools.

And, in fact, Schools CEO Janice Jackson said she plans to share results with communities as a way to show them some of their schools may not be necessary.

“We also have to make tough decisions in places where there are enough opportunities for students to be successful and parents have basically voted with their feet,” Jackson said. “The value of putting out this data is that it allows us to have a conversation with the community around a single source of truth.”

However, she added, she’s not planning to close a bunch of schools at once, and even some schools that aren’t in high demand are a “part of the community and a mainstay.”  

CPS is ultimately projecting higher enrollment for these 10 open-enrollment, neighborhood schools because students were not required to apply for spots there. They are guaranteed a seat whenever they turn up.

In the end, CPS officials said many of these schools likely will end up with the same number of freshmen as last year. They all have been struggling with low enrollment for years. At one of them, Hirsch High School in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood on the South Side, not a single student has signed up to attend. Parents from Hirsch and other low-enrollment schools have long been clamoring for investment in their facilities and programs.

CPS has long been a system of choice, especially for high schools, and this new application was designed to reflect that reality. Currently, less than a quarter of students go to their assigned neighborhood school. What’s particularly controversial about this system is that it clearly shows, in a way never seen before, which schools are in high demand and which ones are not.

Nearly all eighth graders some 93 percent applied through the school district’s new centralized online application called GoCPS. They ranked up to 20 choices and received one offer. Separately, they could also apply to test-in schools and get one offer. In the past, there were different applications for each type of school selective, military, charter, or vocational programs, for example and eighth graders could receive multiple offers

Beyond the schools with super low demand, the data also shows that less than 60 of the 133 city high schools were the top choice of 90 percent of applicants.

About 27,000 students submitted applications to the city’s district-run and charter high schools. Among the city’s selective enrollment test-in schools, Jones in the South Loop was the most sought after. Of nonselective schools, Curie in Archer Heights on the Southwest Side; Taft in Norwood Park on the Northwest Side; Solorio in West Elsdon on the Southwest Side; Prosser in Hanson on the Northwest Side, and Back of the Yards on the Southwest Side were in high demand.

CPS officials note nearly a quarter of students with a choice between a selective enrollment school and a neighborhood school picked the neighborhood option.

Jackson said the school district will use this information to figure out where they need to create more high-quality options for students.

Other takeaways from the data:

Demand tied to school performance

WBEZ’s analysis shows demand tracks closely with academic achievement — the higher performing the school, the greater the demand. Jackson said this indicates that students and families are discerning. But there are some anomalies. Juarez, Curie, and Morgan Park all received CPS’ middle ratings but each were among the top three choices for more than 1,000 applicants. Meanwhile, five mid-rated schools got less than 100 top three rankings, making them among the lowest demand schools.

Rankings and race

Black students from low-income neighborhoods ranked the greatest number of schools, followed by Latino students and then white and Asian students, according to an analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research released Thursday.

White and Asian students also got fewer offers than black and Latino students and tended to turn down their offers more frequently than other students. Lisa Barrow, the Federal Reserve researcher, offered several possible explanations for this. These students might only consider a small number of schools, she said, or they are okay attending their neighborhood schools, which tend to be high performing. Students do not have to apply to their neighborhood school to get a seat.

Arts and vocational programs in demand

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has touted the expansion of the rigorous International Baccalaureate programs in high schools. But, according to the researcher’s analysis, it was art programs and career and technical programs in schools that earned decent ratings from the school district that tended to get far more demand than they could handle.

GoCPS needs tweaking

CPS officials said they switched to this centralized application system because the old one was too complicated and confusing. But Barrow said the new process is not as streamlined as it could be. The complications could prevent some families from fully taking advantage of their choices. 

To see the data released by CPS on high school enrollment and student preferences click here.

Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @WBEZeducation and @sskedreporter.

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