May 22, 2024 - News

Top CPS high schools don't reflect district racial demographics

Split bar chart comparing the demographics of the average Chicago public high school to the top five selective enrollment schools, as of 2023. On average, students in selective high schools were higher income and less racially diverse than in the CPS system. 71% of CPS high school students were low-income and 11% were white. In comparison, 37% of selective high school students were low income and 33% were white.
Data: Chicago Public Schools; Note: Selective high school data includes Jones, Lane Tech, Whitney Young, Payton and North Side; Chart: Axios Visuals

CPS' top five selective high schools enroll disproportionately high percentages of white and Asian students but disproportionately low numbers of Black, Latino and low-income students, according to an Axios analysis.

Why it matters: Selective and magnet schools were meant, in part, to improve racial integration, but in recent years, Black and white segregation has ballooned at these CPS high schools and nationwide.

  • Segregated schools disproportionately hurt Black and Latino students, because those schools tend to have fewer resources, more teacher shortages, higher student-to-school counselor ratios, and fewer AP class options.

Zoom in: Axios analyzed demographics at CPS' consistently top performing high schools — Northside, Lane, Whitney Young, Jones and Payton.

By the numbers: Our analysis shows that, compared with overall district demographics, these top schools enroll:

  • About half as many low-income students
  • Five times more Asian students
  • Three times more white students
  • One-third as many Black students
  • One-third fewer Latino students

Flashback: In 1980, a court order required CPS to desegregate its schools using methods that included considering racial balance in admissions. In 2009, a judge vacated the order.

State of play: Fifteen years later, Black enrollment at four of the five top selective enrollment high schools has dropped by 50%. And at Northside, where it has risen, it increased only from 6% to 6.3% from 2009 to 2024.

  • Black enrollment in the entire district has fallen over the past decade from 39% to 35%, but those numbers do not fully account for the racial disparities.

The intrigue: The recent influx of 9,000, mostly Latino, migrant students to many predominantly Black South and West Side neighborhoods has increased Latino integration there.

What they're saying: "Years of pitting schools against one another with an enrollment system that ranks and sorts students by test scores has created a more segregated and unequal school district. We will never address systemic racism without anti-racist practices and policies," Chicago Teachers Union president Stacy Davis Gates tells Axios.

CPS response: "The District is committed to taking actions that strengthen all our schools in an equitable manner, meaning we will continue to explore how we are funding schools, how we are building systems to identify and support the unique needs of all students, and how we make our selective enrollment admissions process more equitable to ensure better representation of all students," CPS officials tell Axios.

  • "This is long-term work that we aim to address in our five-year strategic plan that is under development, and it is work that may be impacted by current pending legislation."

What's next: A new CPS school funding formula, which bases allocation on needs rather than enrollment, could shift more resources to neighborhood schools and away from selectives, which some have already seen in preliminary budgets, WBEZ reports.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to say Chicago's top selective high schools enroll one-third as many Black students compared to overall district demographics (not one-third fewer).

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