Monday, July 29, 2019

Chicago’s school choice system is tracking kids into different high schools

Chicago’s school choice system is tracking kids into different high schools

The Big Sort: How Chicago’s school choice system is tracking kids into different high schools based on achievement


This spring, at grammar schools all across Chicago, thousands of eighth graders donned caps and gowns and walked across auditorium stages to receive their elementary school diplomas. This fall, the graduates from each of those schools will scatter—to more than 130 different Chicago public high schools, and counting.

But who goes where?
Over the past decade, Chicago has opened dozens of new high schools, and will open more this fall. The school district is trying to expand the number of “quality school options” and offer students a choice of where to go to school. And in many ways, Chicago high schools seem to be improving. Graduation rates are inching up. The city now boasts five of the top ten high schools in the state.

But a new WBEZ analysis shows an unintended consequence of the choice system: students of different ability levels are being sorted into separate high schools.
WBEZ analyzed incoming test scores for freshmen from the fall of 2012, the most recent year data is available. That year, the district mandated that every high school give students an “EXPLORE” exam about a month into the school year.
The 26,340 scores range from painfully low to perfect.
But WBEZ found few schools in the city enroll the full span of students. Instead, low-scoring students and high-scoring students in particular are attending completely different high schools. Other schools enroll a glut of average kids.
Think of it as academic tracking—not within schools, but between them.
The findings raise some of the same long-running questions educators have debated about the academic and social implications of in-school tracking. But they also raise questions about whether the city’s school choice system is actually creating better schools, or whether it’s simply sorting certain students out and leaving the weakest learners in separate, struggling schools.

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