Efforts to Simplify CPS High School Application Process Draw Concern

Though the start of the school year is still a month away for Chicago Public Schools students, incoming eighth graders are already thinking ahead—all the way to next school year, when they begin high school.

This month, the district is rolling out a new process of applying for those schools, but under a new system that has some parents and counselors concerned.

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It’s called the GoCPS single application, and the intent is to consolidate the almost 150 high school applications in Chicago under one process, instead of parents having to navigate all of them separately, including selective enrollment and charter schools.  

But the nonprofit group Generation All, which is focused on improving all neighborhood high schools, has a few concerns, the greatest among them: the process could further segregate students.

“The inequity comes in that, as we’ve created these many options over the last, let’s say 15 to 20 years, some of them have pulled kids and clustered all the high-achieving kids, like the selective-enrollment schools—or the specialty programs have clustered the kids with certain talents and skills—and our neighborhood high schools become, almost like the default option,” said Beatriz Ponce de Leon. “So you know you can go to a neighborhood school, but we haven’t necessarily worked with all of them to make sure that they have what they need to support those students and give them the best educational experience that they can.”

Generation All says it’s also looked into other city school districts where a similar single application has been implemented, and in some cases the high-achieving students are clustered together in the higher-performing schools, and everyone else is left to the schools that don’t perform as well.

So, while the method of application is more efficient, the outcome is the same: the schools aren’t integrated racially or economically.

But research also shows some other districts around the country, including Champaign, Illinois, have implemented a different algorithm to match schools and students, called Control Choice.

“That algorithm also includes other factors like socioeconomic background, geographic location, parents’ education level—which is the case in Champaign, Illinois—so it seeks to equally distribute students across high-quality schools based on socioeconomic background and geography,” said Alexios Rosario-Moore of Generation All.

“And when you distribute students according to socioeconomic background and geography, you’re also going to integrate along racial and ethnic lines. There’s so much research that shows that diversity is beneficial to all students,” he said.

Generation All wants more transparency on the formula the district uses to match students with schools. And they stress that CPS should do more to strengthen the neighborhood schools that aren’t high performing and maybe don’t have as many applicants.

CPS Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson said she’s confident in the match system, and also wanted to dispel some myths about how it’ll work.

“This system does not create better-quality schools. … With that said, parents do need to become more aware of quality schools—we have a lot of quality options that are both neighborhood schools and non-neighborhood schools in Chicago, and I think that it’s the right approach to ensure that parents are more informed,” said Jackson. “The universal enrollment process will do that. One of the components is that parents will see the level of a school, they will have more information about the school, but all of this information is currently publicly available.”

On Wednesday, the district launched a new version of the GoCPS website, where families can sign up for updates.

Later this month, families and students will be able to log in and activate their accounts and create online profiles. This is when they’ll see which high school programs they’re eligible to apply to, based on standards set by individual schools, like test scores, grades and of course, available seats in those schools.

Students can apply to up to 20 schools and rank their top choices. They are then matched based on their ranking preferences, qualifications and the results of a random lottery.

Jackson says the one match students receive will be the district’s best offer, but some parents and students are still concerned.

“They didn’t tell us what data they were going to use,” said parent Shoneice Reynolds. “So are they using test scores? Are they going to get teacher recommendations? We know that they’re wiping the counselors out of the process because they took away the proxy, so the counselors can’t apply on our students’ behalf, can’t work on our students’ behalf, which—that’s one of the reasons they’re there, to help us to get ready for high school.”

And one of those concerns for counselors is the rollout process, and feeling like they don’t know enough about how it will work.

One counselor told us her training so far has only been one webinar.

What’s more, CPS is partnering with community-based organizations to be sure enough people are trained to help families with the process, but this counselor is wondering: who’s leading the process?

“It seems like the outside organizations in some ways have gotten more information than we have,” said counselor Allison Manasse. “We’ve heard from other counselors in CPS that they’ve been approached by outside organizations that they are now sort of leading or spearheading these efforts to help kids apply for high school, when we don’t know very much ourselves. It seems very strange and off-putting.”

Applications are due at end of the calendar year and then the matches happen in the spring semester.

For now, families are advised to start doing their research on schools.

Follow Brandis Friedman on Twitter @BrandisFriedman

Related stories:

New ‘GoCPS’ High School Application Site Goes Live

May 17: The districts’ common high school application website officially went live this week, less than a month after the Board of Education approved the new model.

CPS Aims to Simplify High School Applications With New ‘GoCPS’ Model

April 27: Chicago Public Schools is hoping to simplify its rigorous high school application process with a new plan promising to save time and limit headaches for families and students.

CPS Hoping New Site Will Streamline High School Application Process

Jan. 23: On Wednesday, the Chicago Board of Education will vote on a vendor contract between CPS and SchoolMint, a San Francisco-based tech company specializing in digital student enrollment and registration platforms.

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