Finding the Right Fit

Saira graduated from Cesar E. Chávez Elementary School a couple of years ago at the top of her class. She received several high school offers: one from the most competitive Selective Enrollment program in CPS and another from Back of the Yards High School’s IB program. When we counseled with Saira and her parents about which high school she should attend (as we do with all Chavez students), we came to the decision that Back of the Yards IB was the best fit for her, even better than the competitive Selective Enrollment program.

What happened with Saira is not uncommon. Last year at Chavez, 25 out of 92 eligible 8th grade students received an offer from a Selective Enrollment program.  Of those 25, only 16 decided to attend one of those Selective Enrollment programs. We counsel with students and use tools like the Chavez High School Planner and High School Bound to make sure each student enrolls in a school that will be a good fit – sometimes that is a Selective Enrollment school, sometimes it is not.

The recent WBEZ story entitled, “Which CPS Elementary Schools Send the Most Kids to Top High Schools?” fails to get that point; it assumes that Selective Enrollment programs are the best fit for everyone. The article defines “top” high schools as the five schools with selective enrollment programs that receive the most applications. There are slightly fewer than 300 programs in over 130 high schools within CPS; Selective Enrollment schools represent about 8 percent of these programs. Many of the over 200 remaining programs are in neighborhood high schools. Curie High School, for example, has 13 different programs students can apply to; students accept an offer at one of the individual programs that offers them a spot. While some of the Selective Enrollment programs may be the most competitive, that does not mean that they are the “top” program for every student. Many students and parents actively choose to enroll in a program other than Selective Enrollment. For a student interested in an IB curriculum, a pre-law course of study, a fine arts program, or something closer to home, the “top” school may in fact be a program in their neighborhood high school. In fact, recent analysis from the Consortium on School Research found that high performing students do as well in their neighborhood high schools as in Selective Enrollment high schools.

In addition, the WBEZ story includes an error in their data. The numbers provided in the data table of the story show how many students accepted their offer; unfortunately (and incorrectly), the story reports that those numbers represent the students that were given offers, whether or not the student chose to accept it. If the story had shown the difference between how many get accepted to a “top” high school and how many actually accept their offer, it could have highlighted what many elementary schools already know: there are many excellent neighborhood high school programs for students in CPS.

Saira is on track to graduate at the top of her senior class this year with a full tuition scholarship to the University of Illinois. I’m glad that we worked with her to make a decision about which option was best!