Chance The Rapper gave Chicago Public Schools a check for $1,000,000. We celebrated it widely. We love stories about locals who make good of themselves and then pays it forward in for their hometown. there is one important detail about that was missing from the story.
Not to be a buzzkill, but there is one important detail about Chance's time in CPS that is missing from the public narrative.
Yes, Chance is a successful artist and businessman who came out of CPS, but the school system he's repping systemically sorts students into schools ranging from those that are barely clinging to life to those schools so selective that calling them "public" is a lie.
That creates little islands of privilege in a sea of black schools begging for improvement.
Jones College Prep where Chance attended high school enrolls students using selection criteria that screen students out and creates a well-curated and artificial student population.
It's not an isolated problem, at least 25 percent of CPS' high schools are selective (see CPS' scoring rubric)
Elaine Allensworth, Director of the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research, says selective enrollment systems compound residential and economic segregation by adding "achievement segregation" to the mix.
"One of the consequences of sorting is that some students end up with these really great school experiences and others really struggle because you have concentrated all the students who need the most support," she says.
Education by Chance
Chance lucked out.
He wasn't a model student, but he came from a good home with successful parents so even when Jones Prep didn't work out he turned it into a blessing.
"I wasn't really good at high school or getting good grades and shit, and at that point, I wasn't going to graduate,'"
Some of Chance's teachers reportedly ridiculed his music aspirations, but during a 10-day suspension for smoking weed on campus he produced his first mixtape "10 day." It blew up and was downloaded more than 400,000 times.
Today's he's someone we can point to that embodies the inventive spirit of black youth and a notable example of the hidden potential and genius that lives in our students - even when schools don't see their promise.
But backtrack for a moment.
If Chance were not the brilliant Rapper, instead, just a student from Chicago's southside, and he wanted to transfer to Jones Prep, he'd never get in.
Jones scrutinizes transfer students by assessing their GPA and calling for "demonstrated success in a rigorous curriculum," "very good attendance," "no suspensions or major disciplinary infractions," and the student needs to be in good standing at current school.
That's not something we pretend "public" schools don't do. We live in the myth of democracy in education, common schools, and they system that takes all comers. The system is rigged, we know it, but we gloss the story. Why I don't know.
Deep down, we know the system is rigged, but we gloss the story. Why I don't know.
According to Jones' principal, "enrollment is a selective process, where the students essentially are tested and based on their grades and assessment scores and get in on that type of thing....Academic ranking of the school is extremely high and our school normally ranks in the top three or four in the state of Illinois."
That sounds like an amazing school, one that is completely contrary to the highminded chants of CPS boosters who march to the beat of the Chicago Teachers' Union drum. They often allege charter schools "choose their students," but charters don't do what traditional, magnet, and special schools in CPS do.
CPS' International Baccalaureate programs, two of their College and Career Academies, and their military academies are guilty of choosing their students in ways that are disallowed for charter schools.
CPS' website says "applicants to Magnet High Schools and Programs must pre-qualify in order to apply. Eligibility is based on the student's reading and math scores on the NWEA."
Students with disabilities aren't spared either. They must have a minimum percentile of 24 in both reading and math. For students with Individual Education Plans or those receiving bilingual services, they need "minimum reading and math percentiles that equal 48 or greater."
What? Isn't public education a public good, both non-excludable and non-rivalrous?
Chicago teacher Ray Salazar has quipped "so many activists are strongly anti-charter even though these schools admit by lottery BUT no one has said anything about the inequalities of Selective-Enrollment schools. Of course not, many of these activists want their own kids at "good" CPS schools, not just any neighborhood school."
Salazar and Chance should have a meeting of the minds and invite Common (a supporter of Urban Prep, a celebrated charter school that doesn't use test scores for enrollment, but gets results).
Together they could ask what the anti-choice, anti-reform, and anti-charter school advocates are thinking when they hear about their beloved district schools selecting students based on test scores?
We don't have an answer yet because the "anti" army is so busy fighting alternatives to district schools that they fail to clean their own dirty house.