Researchers dispute benefits of selective high schools


Yam G-Jun

Karina Martinez spoke about her experience attending a neighborhood high school at a March 29 talk debating selective and non-selective high schools.  

By Caroline Bowen

When high school student Karina Martinez’s math teacher stayed after school for four hours to help her study for an upcoming test, she knew she had made the right choice in her neighborhood high school, she said. Now a senior at Curie Metropolitan High School, she said that memory is the reason she now advocates for nonselective enrollment high schools. 

“People have the stigma of neighborhood schools being underperforming, but there’s a lot of students who do succeed there,” said Martinez, a youth council member for Generation All, a nonprofit group working to revitalize neighborhood public high schools. 

Martinez discussed her experience March 29 at a presentation at Wells Community Academy High School, 936 N. Ashland Ave., called “Perception v. Reality: What To Consider When Choosing A CPS High School.” Generation All and the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research organized the discussion to address research that undercuts widely held assumptions about selective enrollment schools outperforming neighborhood high schools. 

Acceptance letters to coveted spots in Chicago’s 11 selective-enrollment high schools were sent to eighth graders around the city on March 3 with a March 17 response deadline, according to the CPS website. Rejected students could make an appeal to a selective school’s principal under the principal discretion process by March 24 and are expected to receive a response by May 5. 

Elaine Allensworth, Lewis-Sebring director of the Consortium on School Research, said the graduation rate has increased by 18 percent for neighborhood schools and 4 percent for selective enrollment schools in the past decade. Top-tier neighborhood high schools typically report greater overall improvements in grades than selective schools, which have the same graduation rate. 

On average, students who attend selective schools end up with lower GPAs than they likely would at a nonselective school, and some are less likely to get into highly selective colleges, she added.

“[Students should] judge school quality not based on who it serves, as much as how it is doing with the students that it serves,” Allensworth said. 

Cassie Creswell, a parent in the audience, said she brought her fifth grade daughter to learn about the options she will face when deciding what high school to attend. Many students are already feeling pressure at her daughter’s age, but parents can come together and shape a different narrative, she added. 

“If [students] hear a different perspective and they hear positive things about neighborhood high schools, then hopefully the kids will bring that to their own discussions among each other,” Creswell said. 

Test scores are just one factor that play into a student’s potential, and parents should consider the school culture when choosing a school for their children, according to Misuzu Schexnider, associate program officer for Generation All. 

“CPS is not this place where if you don’t go to a selective enrollment school, you are lost forever,” Schexnider said. “There are schools full of potential that are growing all of these students to their best ability.” 

Martinez now proudly earns an A in her math class and is looking forward to college in the fall, Martinez said. 

“If I have a struggle, I can call my teachers any day and they will answer,” she said. “The stigma doesn’t really apply to us.”