August 24, 2017
Mr. Tony Howard
Department of Education Policy and Procedures
Chicago Public Schools
42 W. Madison Street
Chicago, IL 60602
Dear Mr. Howard:
The Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Action Council acknowledges the need for a more streamlined and timely application system for public high schools with regards to planning, budget, and programming at the local level. We support our principals and staff and do not want to undermine school leadership and the needs they have for a better system for enrollment. That said, we have some concerns about the new single application for high schools (GoCPS).
Broadly speaking, the introduction of a single application offers an opportunity to address some of the inequities that have plagued our schools for decades. For example, the algorithm could be used to match students with schools in a way that addresses effects of the long-standing problem of segregation in Chicago. As you know, the enrollment at CPS selective schools does not match the racial make-up of CPS students: while about 10% of CPS students are white, the percentage of white students at selective enrollment high schools is often much higher. For example, in 2014 Natalie Moore reported that nearly a quarter of the students in selective enrollment high schools was white. We ask that your office take a step towards improving equity by adjusting the algorithm in such a way that it increases Black and Hispanic students’ access to selective enrollment programs.
Relatedly, we are also concerned about the disparity in resources for selective enrollment schools vs. neighborhood schools. The inequities of the current two-tiered system will be further exacerbated with a single application unless CPS makes a concerted effort to better support its neighborhood schools. Further, if you refer to “top-ranked schools” in the application, parents who have not been made aware of the strengths of their neighborhood schools will rank selective enrollment schools above other schools that might serve their children well. In so doing, many may allocate their top ranked positions to schools they do not have a good chance of getting into. The end result is that many students may end up not being served well by the new system. In a student-based-budgeting world, enrollment numbers matter more and more. In light of the closing of 50 schools four years ago, we fear that some in CPS will use decreased enrollment numbers resulting from this single application an excuse to close even more neighborhood schools. We ask that you change the language of the application so that neighborhood public schools are portrayed as a fair option and not the lowest option.
We are also concerned about the issue of marketing: many charter schools have paid staff to market their schools; neighborhood schools largely do not. It is not fair to ask the principals of neighborhood schools to take on this task when they already have so much on their plate. We ask that you provide quality marketing for neighborhood schools in order to inform the broader community about their strengths and special programs.
Lastly, we are disappointed by what we view as a lack of general community engagement prior to having the system developed. We understand that the Chicago Community Trust has provided one million dollars for outreach so we are puzzled by the lack of communication and solicitation of feedback regarding the new system. The CACs were created to serve as a point of contact between CPS officials and communities. We ask that you use the CACs as a forum for hosting outreach regarding the proposed system and that you make the necessary adjustments based on the feedback you receive.
Katie Gruber, on behalf of the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Action Council