Report looks at effectiveness of selective enrollment schools

Staff Writer

Selective enrollment high schools in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) district may not be as better academically compared to other schools as previously perceived.

A new report this month from the University of Chicago’s (U. of C.) Consortium on School Research compared students in CPS’ 11 selective enrollment schools at both high socioeconomic status (SES) neighborhoods and low-SES neighborhoods to determine if selective enrollment made a difference in students’ academic achievement.

According to the report, students from low-SES neighborhoods who attend a selective enrollment high school have an overall better school environment, however, they tend to have lower grade point average scores and are even less likely to attend a selective college after they graduate.

“Selective high school admission has no effect on test scores, regardless of neighborhood SES and we find no evidence that students from low-SES neighborhoods experience greater improvements in their reported high school experience than students from high-SES neighborhoods,” the report states. “When it comes to grades, the negative effect of selective high school admission on GPAs is larger for students from low-SES neighborhoods than for students from high-SES neighborhoods.”

CPS’ selective enrollment high schools have been around since 1997. The schools have an admission process based on neighborhood economic context and student achievement, which includes test scores and grades. U. of C. restricted their samples strictly to students that were currently enrolled in CPS in only the eighth and ninth grades.

Findings also conclude that students from low-SES neighborhoods that are enrolled into a selective school are 13 percent less likely to attend a selective college than those students from low-SES neighborhoods that applied to a selective school but were not admitted.

The report explains that while there is no evidence of higher academic benefits, students at those selective enrollment high schools do report a greater sense of safety.

“Perhaps it is factors like these that make [selective enrollment high schools] highly desirable to students and families—more so than the potential to improve test scores and college outcomes,” the report said.

The report suggests the possibility of CPS getting rid of selective enrollment high schools altogether based on these results in academic performance however, it goes on to state that the benefits outside of academia should also be noted.

In its conclusion the report said, “These schools serve the additional goal of creating more diverse student bodies than generally arise in a neighborhood school system. Another potential benefit of offering selective schools as part of a portfolio of district school options is that [selective enrollment high schools] may attract or retain families who would otherwise leave the district for private schools or suburban districts. Retaining families could ultimately benefit districts in terms of financial and nonfinancial resources by increasing the tax base and the social capital of families with children in the public schools.”