Giving Compass' Take:

• Kevin Mahnken reports that Chicago’s diversity measures based on elite schools failed to help disadvantaged students. 

• How can these types of measures be improved? 

• Learn about the value of elite high schools

Applying to one of Chicago’s 11 selective enrollment high schools is a little like banking on the Bears to triumph at the Super Bowl: probably futile and, at times, downright depressing.

The elite public schools, which admit students on the basis of high grades and exam scores, attract thousands of high-achieving applicants each year. In 2018, roughly 30 percent were ultimately offered a spot, and less than half of those were accepted to their top choice. That level of demand is comparable to the nationwide quest for slots at highly touted universities. It’s also understandable, given that five of the academies were recently listed among U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of the nation’s 100 best public high schools.

To temper that extraordinary competition, Chicago Public Schools have instituted an affirmative action system that lowers admissions criteria for disadvantaged students. By expressly setting aside places for students of low socioeconomic status, Chicago has rendered the sector substantially heterogeneous along class and racial lines — so much so that the district is now held up as a model to others that have struggled to diversify their own exam schools.

According to new research, Chicago’s diversity measures haven’t succeeded in lifting academic performance for those they were designed to help. Two recent studies — one released as a working paper and another soon to be published in an academic journal — show that students at Chicago’s selective enrollment high schools see no improvement in their test scores. In fact, academic records show that they earned worse grades and GPAs than their peers who were rejected from the schools.

While all students were likely to see their class ranks adversely affected (a predictable result of gaining a horde of extra-diligent classmates), the most disadvantaged saw the biggest declines. Disturbingly, they were also less likely to enroll at selective colleges than similar kids who weren’t offered admission to an elite high school.

Read the full article about Chicago's elite schools by Kevin Mahnken at The 74.