By Michael Beyer, Principal
I knew our city had a problem with the perception there is a 'lack' of quality schools when my son was barely one year old. That summer I was in our front yard, pruning our trumpet vine, when a neighbor stopped by. His wife was pregnant and he wanted to know what elementary schools I could recommend. He was thinking years ahead of us, as we did not start considering until the year before preschool. We would have been happy with our neighborhood option, but alas, all preschool spots went to high-needs students, mainly four-year-old children from families in poverty.
Our son is 8 years old now and we're already looking ahead to high school. Now and then my son asks if I could be his teacher, and I remind him that we probably wouldn't get along so well if that were the case, but that I would like to be his principal if he attends Ogden International High School.
I'm not worried about him, or his sister getting in to a selective enrollment high school (SEHS). While we won't discourage applying, we know there are plenty of excellent options besides SEHS in Chicago. Ogden International is one of the best options., and perhaps better than most of the SEHS.
The University of Chicago produces some of the most respected research on educational outcomes. Recently, they released reports that indicate, as The Atlantic asked after reading one report, "...what if the high-school rat race is largely for naught?"
The authors of a recent study on Selective Enrollment High Schools (SEHS) find some benefits, but they are not academic as GPA is often lower for students in SEHS and, "...when it comes to test scores, attending a SEHS has no statistically significant impact. Simply put, on average, these students would have performed well on tests with or without selective schools."
Crain's take on the report, "The core conclusion-that attendance at Payton, Jones, North Side or one of Chicago's other elite high schools is a bit of an academic placebo-is disturbing. But it makes a little more sense once you consider what I'll call the small-fish, big-pond syndrome."
Parents perceive SEHS as 'better' because they start with the 'better' students. But are these students learning? Apparently not as much as we think, if students perform just as well if not better at a non-SEHS. In many cases they are losing opportunity to learn and grow, because they could have taken more leadership roles at a non-SEHS. I often wonder if parents are pushing their students to attend a SEHS for the perception of education they might receive, or for the label that comes with being accepted to a SEHS?
There might be other detriments from attending a SEHS. While SEHS are culturally diverse, students aren't being exposed to a diverse range of academic abilities. What will happen when students who attend a SEHS enter college or the job market and have to collaborate with peers or supervise people who struggle academically? Will SEHS graduates be able to relate to these people? Or will they dismiss them as 'lesser' in the same manner we dismiss the schools that serve such students?
In another report, researchers conclude IB schools with Diploma Programmes offer more rigorous learning opportunities:
I encourage parents to be confident that your child or children will be all right. In a more positive twist of 'the apple doesn't fall far from the tree', your child will be fine because they are your child. If you didn't fail, they won't either, no matter what school they attend, or don't attend.
In the mean time, join Ogden International High School at our last Open house on November 30th by registering here: http://ogden.cps.edu/admissions.html
Consider all the options, and quit the rat race.
This blog has contributions from a variety of faculty and staff at Ogden International.