Choice creates ‘the big sort’

Choice has expanded dramatically in Chicago, report Linda Lutton and Brendan Metzger for WBEZ. Most parents choose between an array of district-run and charter high schools.  That’s led to The Big Sort:  High-performing students go to the district’s selective “test-in” high schools,  average students choose schools with other average students and the low performers cluster in very low-performing schools.

Here an interactive chart.

Many of the district-run new and specialty schools are allowed to screen out low achievers. Charters can’t do that, but the application process can discourage unmotivated parents. Noble, the city’s largest charter network, has agreed to let parents submit applications without attending information sessions and to make it clear that submitting an essay is optional.

In tough neighborhoods, the weakest students and those with the least savvy parents end up in comprehensive high schools.

Middle-class students and high performers have been avoiding some Chicago high schools for decades, concede Lutton and Metzger.  Students know which schools are for which students.

“If you get straight As and you do really good on testing, the school you’ll probably get accepted into is Northside, Walter Payton, Whitney Young,” says (Lane Tech) freshman Amber Hunt.

What about the B students? “Schools with IB programs sometimes take solid Bs,” says Amber. “Charter schools are kind of like if you’re average, or slightly below average.”

Students who do poorly in grammar school go to neighborhood schools, students say.

Lane Tech students enjoy attending school with high achievers. “It raises the standards a lot,” says freshman Paradise Cosey. Another freshman says this is the first year since fifth grade that classmates haven’t asked to copy her work.

(WBEZ/Linda Lutton)
Kadeesha Williams wanted to go to Marine Military Academy, where 48 percent of ninth graders score above average. She ended up at Marshall, where 14 percent come in above the district’s average.

 

WBEZ also looks at Marshall Metropolitan High School, where 86 percent of ninth graders score below the district average. Some can’t read.

Kadeesha Williams, who’ll be a sophomore in the fall, wanted to go to Marine Military Academy, a district-run school nearby, “but my mom, she lost the paperwork.” Her mother claims the school lost Kadeesha’s test scores.

Kadeesha likes Marshall because the teachers are so helpful. The school is focused on helping struggling students.

But for many students Marshall is “a school of last resort,” says teacher James Dorrell. “They try to enroll in charter schools or selective enrollments, and once they can’t get in, they would come here.”

Dorrell says after a re-staffing and infusion of money in 2010, Marshall is hugely improved. . . . Freshmen have double periods of English and math. Many take reading — a subject other high schools don’t even offer.

But test scores remain low and more students drop out than earn a diploma.

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