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CPS opens application process for selective, magnet schools

Starting today, students can apply for selective enrollment, magnet and other specialty schools, an annual ritual that sends many families scrambling for a shot at what are considered the city’s better schools.

This year, the district was supposed to debut a new single-application process that would mean students could apply for all schools in one place and then get one offer. The centralized system would be modeled on the application process now used in New York City and Boston. Last November, the Board of Education awarded the Institute for Innovation in Public School Choice a $390,000 contract to help develop the new application.

CPS spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler says CPS officials felt that they were implementing too many other initiatives, such as the common core and the longer school day, to also roll out the single high school application. She says it is now scheduled to be implemented next year. 

Though she says that the delay had nothing to do with unresolved issues, those intimate with the process say CPS is still working through topics such as how to incorporate charter schools into the mix. 

The specifics of how CPS’ single application system would work are not yet clear. But such a drastic change from the current process—in which students apply separately to selective enrollment schools, magnet schools, charter schools and specialty programs and can get accepted into one of each kind—will mean a significant shift.

In cities with a single-application process, students receive one offer to the highest-ranked school that they are admitted to, either through test scores or a lottery.

All high schools become schools of choice, even neighborhood high schools, and are put into the mix. Students can easily end up traveling across the city, though that is often the norm already in CPS since only half of students attend their neighborhood high school.

Questions on charters, neighborhood schools

Among the biggest unresolved issues with the new CPS process was how to incorporate charter schools and neighborhood high schools into the mix, say Illinois Network of Charter Schools President Andrew Broy. Broy served on the committee working on developing the application.

Charter schools currently accept students based on a lottery, but students may apply to many charter schools and get put on waiting lists. With a single application and a single offer, these waiting lists would disappear—and that could prove to be a problem, Broy says.

“So what would happen if a student listed their preferences as Northside Prep, Perspectives and Noble Street, in that order?” Broy says. “They didn’t get into Northside Prep or Perspectives, but get an offer from Noble Street. Now what if someone transfers out of Perspectives, but there’s no waiting list and no way to let the student at Noble Street know the seat is available?”

Plus, charter schools often use waiting lists as evidence that they are in demand. Yet, because each charter schools runs its own individual admissions process, students can be on multiple waiting lists, even after they have accepted a spot at another school.

Broy admits that some charter schools are worried that the single-application system will expose that they are not in demand.

Yet charter schools are under pressure to be a part of any central application process. For one, CEO Jean-Claude Brizard has complained that having so many applications for parents and students to fill out is frustrating and confusing. And last year, charter schools signed on to a compact with the district that states that “ideally” charter schools would be part of the application process. That compact brought charter schools a boost in per-pupil funding and money to pay for special education teachers.

Neighborhood schools are another issue. Because many of them have been struggling academically for years, it is assumed that few students will list them as a preference. Though they have long been seen as schools of last resort, making them the official default for students who get in nowhere else is a dicey proposition.

Broy says that the committee discussed the fact that principals at neighborhood high schools need time to market their programs before the single application is fully implemented.

8th-graders to get letter

Though the single application is delayed, the application process will include several new procedures this year. According the Office of Academic Enhancement, CPS will send every 8th-grader an eligibility letter, identifying what schools they could to apply to.

New York City has a similar procedure: The district looks at individual 7th-grade reading scores and divides students into the top third, middle third and lower third. The category that the student is in determines which schools they can apply to.

In CPS, eligibility will be determined by a student’s 7th-grade test scores and grades. But it’s still unclear whether the letters will only include information on whether students have a shot at a selective enrollment high school or program, or whether they also suggest charter and neighborhood schools to apply to.

The Office of Academic Enhancement’s website also says that an elementary guide to options will be available Monday, the day the process opens. However, the high school guide won’t be ready until later this month.

CPS no longer plans to put on the Options for Knowledge elementary and high school informational fairs. Instead, “detailed and informational PowerPoint Presentations” will be on the website.

Important CPS application process dates include:

  • October 8 – All applications available
  • November 5 – Testing begins for selective enrollment elementary schools
  • November 17 – Testing begins for selective enrollment high schools
  • December 14 – All applications due


Rod Estvan wrote 2 years 13 weeks ago

Very interesting article

Andrew Broy I think is a pretty straight shooter and the issue of the wait list issue is all mixed up with the idea that it some how demonstrates demand for charter schools. There is simply no question that there is a demand for charter school slots but how many is a mystery to me and I also think its really a mystery to CPS. Here is the other odd factor in all of this, individual charter schools are also in competition with each other for students. As we know from marketing research there is such a thing as artificial demand. So having a larger wait list is probably better than having no such list or a relatively smaller list.

The CPS FY 13 budget admits CPS overestimated the enrollment in charter schools for FY 12 and that this calls for more rigorous analysis of charter school enrollment projections. The FY 13 budget states: "Spending was also below budget in the school lunch fund, the general fund (where staff turnover was higher than budgeted), federal grants (where some carryover of funds is allowed) and in charter school tuition payments (where fewer students than projected were enrolled)."

Although the budget does not state how many fewer students, we do know from the budget that in the program (119050), that per charter student tuition to be paid out of the FY 12 budget for all students was allocated at $328,411,761, but based on charter enrollment CPS only distributed $313,226,173 in FY 12 to charters. This means that enrollment was $15.2 million under projection or 4.6% under projection.

Last year CPS projected charter school enrollment to be 49,521 students (CPS FY 12 budget at page 269). On page 36 of this year's budget the final charter school enrollment was listed as 48,073, so we can determine charters had 1,448 students fewer than CPS projected for FY 12.

I don't think that this demonstrates that there is not a demand for charter school slots, rather it demonstrates the current system using charter school wait list data is totally confused and probably inflates demand to some degree. Something does need to be done about this.

Rod Estvan

Anonymous wrote 2 years 13 weeks ago


390k to develop an application...really?

Mayfair Dad wrote 2 years 13 weeks ago


Company must be owned by one of Daley's nephews.

northside teacher wrote 2 years 13 weeks ago


That means that for ever thousand dollars in CPS charter money..rangle gets 6 dollars??? hmmmmmmm

$236,000 divided by $328,411,761=.006 or 6/1000
Am i missing someting here?

close observer wrote 2 years 13 weeks ago

I could have developed an

I could have developed an application for $39 or for a seat at Payton. Also, what about the waiting lists at all of the CPS schools? (Magnets, gifted, classical, and good neighborhood schools) I know of one magnet?neighborhood school that had over 4000 applications for less than 100 spots. Can we stop the "waiting lists show parents prefer charters" argument?

Jzzyj1 wrote 2 years 13 weeks ago

Charters in the Mix?

"incorporate charters in the mix"??? Is this a way for the Mayor to illegally screen for higher performing students, who do not make selective enrollment, to be streamed into charters. I'm quite sure the Mayor and his charter cronies are spinning the wheels to make sure charters look more attractive based on testing data! As time move on, charters,based on test scores, are beginning to look like their neighborhood counterparts, so of course something has to be done!

Anonymous wrote 2 years 13 weeks ago

Rangel . . . every

North Side Teacher, I am so glad you are not teaching my child. I fear your notes to parents would be returned by me, corrected in red ink.

Carmen Rodriguez wrote 2 years 13 weeks ago

Say what?

We're identifying children as 'top third, middle third and lower third' based on one year's achievements? Way to give a kid the sense that her fate is already decided.

We're offering children only one spot at the 'top-rated' school? How do the folks who decide this stuff know that a child's hope is that they'll get into Jones instead of Lane? How a school is rated is dependent upon WHO is doing the rating.

If this isn't more proof that the whole thing is broken, I don't know what is. The money wasted on development of an application form is the least of our troubles. The children wasted in the system are the ones who deserve our concern.

reenie wrote 2 years 13 weeks ago


While I agree with Rod Estvan that there are concerns about charter wait lists creating an artificial sense of demand, I'm even more concerned about a single application process removing agency from parents. Right now parents who want an option other than their neighborhood high school can apply to multiple charters, essentially treating high school like a college admissions process. And I know that parents are learning to do this--I've helped them manage the system. But if charters are incorporated into a single application and a single admission--which this sounds like it will do--if a kid gets into only a low-performing neighborhood school, there's no backup plan. So once again, only parents who can afford to pay tuition have a backup. I realize the ultimate answer is to remake low-performing neighborhood high schools into real schools where kids are challenged to learn, but we aren't going to make that happen before this application rolls out. So what are we doing to ensure people have alternatives? Could this be a single application with multiple acceptances (one CPS and one charter if applicable?). With a waiting list? Who will manage that list? Hope they think this stuff through from an end-user viewpoint!

Ranoule Tatum wrote 2 years 11 weeks ago

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