Northside College Prep High School, 5500 N. Kedzie Ave., Chicago. | Ashlee Rezin/for Sun-Times Media
Whites getting more spots at top Chicago public high schools
More white students are walking the halls at Chicago’s top four public high schools.
At Walter Payton College Prep on the Near North Side, more than 41 percent of freshmen admitted the past four years have been white, compared to 29 percent in 2009, a Chicago Sun-Times analysis of Chicago Public Schools data has found.
At Jones College Prep in the South Loop, 38 percent of this year’s freshman class is white, compared to 29 percent four years ago.
In 2010 — the first year race was no longer used to determine the makeup of Chicago schools — the percentage of white freshmen at Northside College Prep in North Park rose from 37 percent to 48 percent.
And at Whitney Young College Prep on the Near West Side, the percentage of black freshmen has steadily declined in the past three years, while the percentage of whites has risen.
The increase in the number of white students fulfills the predictions of education observers that minority students would be edged out of slots at the city’s top schools as a result of a 2009 ruling by U.S. District Judge Charles P. Kocoras lifting a 1980 consent decree that had required Chicago’s schools to be desegregated, with no school being more than 35 percent white.
“We saw that coming in 2009,” says Julie Woestehoff, executive director of the group Parents United for Responsible Education.
As things now stand, Woestehoff says, “I consider these schools to be gated communities for children of privilege.”
Since Kocoras lifted the desegregation order, CPS has built a new, bigger campus for Jones, allowing the school to increase its freshmen class by more than 100 students this year.
And Mayor Rahm Emanuel has announced plans to expand Payton and to build a new selective-enrollment high school on the North Side, to be named for President Barack Obama, that’s set to open in 2017 and eventually will have 1,200 students — all in an effort to keep middle-class families in Chicago.
“Isn’t it interesting that, when the system was based on race, there weren’t as many slots,” Woestehoff says. “I think it would be really great to see these North Side institutions provide more opportunities for black and Hispanic kids.”
The Chicago school system now has 10 “selective-enrollment” high schools. Students are admitted to these based on their standardized test results, admissions test scores and grades, as well as on socioeconomic criteria. Five of the schools — Brooks, King, Lindblom, South Shore and Westinghouse, all on the South Side and the West Side — see few applications from whites and have virtually no white students.
Instead, when white students apply for admission to a selective-enrollment high school, they often target Northside, Payton, Jones and Whitney Young, the highest-ranking schools in Chicago in terms of test scores and also among the tops in the state. They also apply to Lane Tech, the city’s No. 5-ranked high school, where the number of white students has held relatively steady, at 30 percent, the past six years.
“The district values diversity and, as such, strives to find a balance and create socioeconomic diversity in the schools,” CPS spokesman Joel Hood says. “We feel we’ve struck a good balance, as the schools are more successful than ever, and demand for seats is ever-increasing.”
Thirty percent of the seats at each selective-enrollment high school go to the students with the highest scores, school officials say.
The other 70 percent are chosen based on their test scores — as well as a formula that CPS created to divide the city into four “tiers” based on the census tracts where students live.
Each tier includes about 109,000 students. The tiers are recalculated every year based on five socioeconomic benchmarks: median household income, adult education levels and the percentages of single-parent households, owner-occupied homes and non-English speakers.
The system is supposed to make it easier for students from lower-income families to find a spot in a selective-enrollment high school. So, on average, students from the higher tiers must have better scores than those in the lower tiers.
The system doesn’t always fulfill its goal, though, of placing lower-income students on a more-level playing field with students from richer families, the Sun-Times analysis found. In some cases, students from lower-income areas are in the same tier with students from the city’s wealthiest areas.
Here is a breakdown of the four tiers CPS is using to admit freshmen in the coming school year:
• Tier 4 includes the Gold Coast, the city’s richest census tract, where median household income is $304,666. It also includes homes near 95th and Halsted on the South Side, where the median income is $42,112.
• Tier 3 includes 13 census tracts in which median-income levels top $100,000. The richest is in Lincoln Park around Fullerton and Clark, where median income is $191,181. The lowest median income in this tier is $25,150 for a part of Edgewater, also on the North Side.
• Tier 2 includes a Little Italy census tract in which the median income is $79,181 and a section of Englewood where it’s $13,742.
• Tier 1 includes a section of Little Village where the median income is $47,244 and an area around 26th and State, where it’s $10,289.
Chicago school officials have drawn criticism in the past for denying admission to hundreds of students with top admission scores while admitting lower-performing students recommended by politicians and others with clout.
Even with the tier system, school administrators can admit a student with a lower score — for example, an athlete or someone with a disability.
The Sun-Times examination of top admission choices by incoming freshman — the schools they wanted to attend most — found that:
• Last year at Northside, 118 Tier 4 freshman who had scores between 900 — the highest possible score — and 816 were selected for enrollment, according to the CPS data. Another 208 Tier 4 applicants with scores higher than 816 were rejected — including one student whose score was 890.
• Lane selected 205 Tier 4 applicants, whose scores ranged between 900 and 586, while rejecting 664 Tier 4 students who had scores between 830 and 586.
• Young picked 74 Tier 3 freshman who made Young their No. 1 choice, with scores between 900 and 565, while rejecting 442 Tier 3 kids with scores between 859 and 565.
CPS officials say 650 generally is the cutoff for admission to the selective-enrollment high schools.
Contributing: Art Golab, Max Rust