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The Mechanics
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Chicago Public Schools Wed Jul 27 2011

A Look Behind: Where and How to Send Your Kids to School

On Thursday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that he would not be sending his children to a school run by the CPS, but to University of Chicago Lab School in Hyde Park. Reaction to this announcement varied. One question that could be raised is why Mayor Emanuel didn't send his children to one of the magnet or selective enrollment schools in Chicago.

The deadline to apply to send a child to a magnet or selective enrollment school for the upcoming school year was December 17, 2010. And the process can be challenging.

There are seven types of elementary schools in the city that are not a standard neighborhood or charter school. There are magnet, magnet cluster, open enrollment, classical schools, academic centers, international gifted programs and regional gifted centers.

A magnet school generally does not have a neighborhood attendance boundary, although there are eight schools that are exceptions to this rule. Magnet cluster schools are neighborhood schools with an emphasis on a particular subject and do accept students outside of the attendance boundary. With both of these schools, any student can attend as long as they submit an application and are selected through a lottery. On the general application required by these schools, parents may select up to 20 schools in the order of preference.

An open enrollment school does not have a specific focus in the curriculum, unlike a magnet or magnet cluster school, but does allow parents to apply and send their children to these schools if they live outside of the attendance area.

Then there are the four other school types. A classical school has an accelerated program focusing on the liberal arts and only students that have scored at or above the eightieth percentile in both math and reading on their standardized tests to be considered. Regional gifted centers use an advanced and accelerated curriculum for students that are identified as gifted. In order to be considered for these schools, a student has to have scored in the ninetieth percentile or higher on their standardized tests, as do students that are applying for international gifted programs. International gifted programs differ from regional gifted centers by having a curriculum specifically focusing on English, French, liberal arts, technology, arts, library science, and research. The final school, an academic center, is for students that are considered "academically advanced," according to the Options for Knowledge Guide 2011-12, and have scored at or above the seventieth percentile on their standardized test. The academic centers are located with some of the city's high schools.

Once a parent applies to those schools--which requires the Selective Enrollment Elementary School application, different from the one used for magnet schools--eligible students have to take a test to determine if they can attend the Selective Enrollment Elementaries,

If you've managed to make it this far without getting a headache, congratulations because there are still the high schools to discuss.

For the high schools, there are career academies, military academies, magnet, small--schools with a total student population of less than 600 students--and selective enrollment schools. Small and magnet high schools are the only ones that use a computerized lottery to select all students. Similar to the selective enrollment elementary schools, the selective enrollment high schools require students to take a test to determine if they can get in. The military academies, which use the same application as the selective enrollment high schools, requires an interview.

For the career academies, there are various programs within the schools including information technology and culinary and hospitality. On the applications, the codes for those programs need to be put down and each of those codes differs from school to school. These schools only use a lottery system if there are more applications than open spaces and they give preference to students with a stanine score of 5 in math and reading based on seventh grade standardize testing results.

Something that has to be remembered when applying for a school is that just because a school is a magnet school doesn't mean it is a better school. The curriculum is not accelerated and not designed for students that show a unique academic talent. It is a school with a specific focus in the curriculum that is for any child in Chicago lucky enough to be selected through the lottery system. The only schools designed with a more advanced curriculum for academically gifted students are the selective enrollment schools and a student has to have performed well enough on their standardized tests to even be considered for the test for one of those schools.

For some people a magnet school might be better than their neighborhood school. In high school, it is very likely that a career academy would be better than a neighborhood school. But parents have to decide which of those schools would be the best for their student. Some would argue that a parent could determine this by looking at the academic performance of a school, but that information is not available in the Options for Knowledge Guide. To get that information, a person has to go to the CPS website, which is only in English. As for the Options for Knowledge Guide, it is only available in English and Spanish.

Here are the catches about applying to these schools: a parent or guardian can only submit one application per child, meaning that an adult has to decide what school they want to send that student to. As for getting in, the computerized lottery system for the magnet schools assigns a percentage of students that are not selected places on a wait list. But if someone has applied for a selective enrollment elementary school and was not selected because there were no spots available, there is no wait list.

So essentially, if an adult does not understand the requirements of certain schools or how to fill out an application, a child could be stuck at their current school. Students are still subject to the abilities, interest, and dedication of their parents or guardians. The "school choice" that already exists shows how fragile a consumer market is when it comes to education. This system should be streamlined, or, of course, the neighborhood schools need to be improved. If you make it difficult for students to attain a better future for themselves through specialized schools, then the schools they currently attend should be able to prepare them for a better world. Maybe the question that should be asked of Mayor Emanuel shouldn't be "Why are you sending your children to a very expensive private school?" but "What are you going to do about the current system that isn't mere privatization?"

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Texas T / July 28, 2011 1:18 PM

This seriously scares me and my child is only entering preschool this year. I am going to have nightmares when he turns 4 and I have to find a Kindergarten for him. I already know I need to move out of my neighborhood by Spring to at least give him a fighting chance at something decent.

LeTonya Washington / April 15, 2013 8:36 AM

"What are you going to do about the current system that isn't mere privatization?"

You say "mere privatization" like it is aworthless concept. In fact, it is the only fix. Provide parents with vouchers to send their kids to the school of their choice. Good schools will thrive and grow accepting more and more children. While poor performing schools will be closed. However, the teacher unions would not allow it because the "bad" teachers (about 90%) would need to find a job they are qualified for. Maybe the post office. Chicago is doomed. The public sector teacher unions must be removed. Do it for the children.

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