The Achievement Gap

Winter 2013

A special diversity initiative has given promising black students from the worst elementary schools a seat in top high schools. But the program’s success won’t close the gap for poorer students who need better prospects for a good education.

Table of Contents

Getting a chance

Sarah Karp

In 2008, a federal judge freed CPS from the dictates of a long-standing desegregation decree that had kept at least some racial balance in the district’s elite selective schools.

To try and maintain that balance in four selective high schools—Walter Payton, Jones, Northside College Prep and Whitney Young, bar-none the best high schools in the city—CPS officials started a program that offers seats to promising black students from the district’s worst elementary schools, who otherwise would not have qualified for admission.

The district has quietly kept the initiative going and...

achievement gap, equity, high schools, race and class

Teaching the art of the essay

Rebecca Harris

Selective schools and military high schools (which also have selective admissions criteria) have some of the highest pass rates for students of color on Advanced Placement tests. One of those schools is Rickover Naval Academy, housed in the Senn High campus in Edgewater.

In spring 2011, 52 percent of the Latino students at Rickover who took AP classes passed at least one test. In spring 2012, the rate fell to just 35 percent for Latinos, but half the school’s 12 African-American AP students passed an AP exam.

Principal Michael Biela says he tries to make sure teachers get...

achievement gap, equity, high schools, race and class

Limited options

Sarah Karp

The sign taped on the door says “No Boys Allowed.” Inside the room, donuts and small, white Styrofoam cups of orange juice and water sit on a desk.

Several young women slowly walk in with a look of consternation on their faces. “It is critical down there,” says one.

“That is crazy,” says another.

Teacher Magen Kilcoyne, whose curly, sandy-colored hair is pulled back and who is dressed in black cargo pants and a black “Bowen Class of 2012” T-shirt, shakes her head as she plops down copies of author Nathan McCall’s book “Makes Me Wanna Holler” on everyone’s desk.

...achievement gap, equity, high schools, race and class

Not passing the test

Rebecca Harris

In an effort to expose more students to college-level work, CPS has in recent years pushed more students to participate in Advanced Placement classes.

The district has included AP enrollment in its school achievement formula, grading principals on the number of students who take AP classes and pass AP tests. In some ways, the policy has worked: Since 2000, CPS has quadrupled the percentage of students taking AP classes citywide, with participation increasing by an average of 13 percent every year.

The district even won an award from the College Board in 2011 for its progress...

achievement gap, Advanced Placement, equity, high schools, race and class

Every year, a high-stakes gamble begins.

Every year, a high-stakes gamble begins. Parents across Chicago take their children to be tested for selective elementary schools and programs, the first step in a potentially make-or-break scenario...
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