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My unfair sense of academic superiority

The application deadline for selective-enrollment high schools in Chicago will end in December. Selective-enrollment high schools are public schools that select their students by grades and test scores. Of the more than 14,000 students who apply, only 30 percent are accepted.

For the students who are not accepted, typically they are left to choose between costly private schools or subpar neighborhood schools that are possibly riddled with drugs and crime.

Selective-enrollment schools are labeled as Chicago’s top schools, and are considered Illinois’ top schools as well. One such school, Northside College Prep, has been ranked by US News & World Report as the No. 1 high school in Illinois for the past five years. Most of the selective-enrollment high schools are ranked in the top 50 out of the 760 schools in the state.

Each year, students all over Chicago fight for a seat at one of these schools, as if their lives depended on it. Who’s to blame them?

As a junior myself at one of the schools, Lindblom Math and Science Academy, I’ve felt the pressure and stress that the application process brings. The system is based on your seventh-grade state standardized scores as well as your seventh-grade grades, plus an entrance exam, all quantified in a scale of up to 900 points. Most selective-enrollment schools accept only students with a score of 700 or higher.

I chose Lindblom over my neighborhood Chicago Public School, Kenwood Academy, because US News & World Report ranked Lindblom No. 20 in the state in 2012. I felt that if I attended Lindblom I would receive a better education, which for the most part is true. Much of my decision, however, was based purely on how I thought I would be perceived by my peers.

I believed, as many Chicago students do, that if I attended a selective-enrollment school, I would belong to an elite group. Many students, including me, find ourselves thinking that attending selective-enrollment schools makes us “better” than kids who attend other schools.

Though these-selective enrollment schools may indeed be academically stronger, the ideology of superiority that CPS has lodged within the minds of Chicagoans is wrong. Chicago Public Schools on its own website labels selective-enrollment schools as schools “designed to meet the needs of Chicago’s most academically advanced students.”

My quibble with the system is this: Why can’t CPS make all high schools like this?

Labeling certain schools as advanced has led to the creation of an elitist system. By comparison, then, other schools are inferior.

I’ve had friends who sit and talk and joke about how “stupid” other kids are at other schools. We have joked about how their schools are falling apart, and how their textbooks are crumbling, and about how seniors are learning eighth-grade math.

I am not proud to admit that I’ve joked about these things with my friends; some of my teachers have done the same thing. But it’s not funny. These are real problems students face at the majority of the schools in Chicago. Because I was “lucky” to get into Lindblom, does that make me better than the majority of the students in Chicago?

CPS would like us all to believe this is true, as CPS not only labels the selective-enrollment schools as better, but they also throw extra funding our way. For instance, a $17 million improvement project has been approved for Walter Payton College Prepatory High School, another selective-enrollment school, that will add another wing to the school, allowing for increased enrollment. This caused great controversy because CPS announced earlier this year that it would close 49 public schools because of finanical problems. Where did the $17 million come from?

I’m not saying I don’t enjoy and benefit from the advantages at my school, but I have a problem with CPS favoring part of the school district over the others. It’s not right that my mindset has been altered to believe that somehow I’m better than other people. Nothing is being done about the way CPS allocates its funds or labels its schools.

Magnet schools are great, but when more than 14,000 people have to apply because their neighborhood schools are that “bad,” and fewer than 5,000 of them are accepted, that’s a flawed system.

CPS needs to change its school system, as it is the third-largest in the U.S and one of the biggest contributors to the education of the world’s future leaders.

Donald Rapier is a junior at Lindblom Math & Science Academy and a participant in Youth Narrating Our World through The OpEd Project.

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