Make the connection between virtual learning, grades and entering a good high school in Chicago


With the current outbreak of COVID-19, it’s no surprise that Chicago public schools are purchasing a stock of laptops in anticipation of moving to more distance learning classes in January.

The number of reported cases among students and teachers more than tripled before the start of winter vacation, so the district’s decision makes sense. Even so, it’s disheartening to think that some students may once again have to cuddle up in front of electronic screens for class – a situation many children struggled with over the past year.

The two good things: CPS has no plans to move to full district-wide distance learning. And with his purchase of 100,000 laptops, every student who finds himself in distance learning again will have easier access to a new device. instead of the older or damaged laptops some students ended up with last year.

If distance learning becomes necessary again, it should be better this time around – with engaging lessons and socio-emotional support for students. Students need to be fully engaged so that their grades do not drop as happened in too many schools last year.

Enter elite high schools

Bad grades are particularly problematic for older elementary school students who wish to be admitted to one of the best selective high schools in town.

CPS has made strides in improving neighborhood high schools, and that’s a plus. But many parents and students still aim to get into an “elite” school, like Whitney Young or Jones College Prep.

Who can blame them, when these schools have more resources – including fundraising – to offer “extras” like foreign language lessons and sports programs? For a low-income kid from, say, Garfield Park or South Chicago, the chance to go to Walter Payton College Prep is often worth the several hour commute.

Yet last year, when distance learning disrupted education, poor grades became much more common among low-income students – and it could well threaten those students’ chances of entering schools. selective, because WBEZ recently reported.

“I think about this every day,” a worried mother told WBEZ about her son’s performance in seventh grade when he was struggling with virtual learning. “He’s at an age where it’s hard for him to really concentrate with a computer. Another mom described her child’s distance learning experience as “awful, awful”.

Obviously it was horrible for the other kids as well. In schools with mostly low-income students, Aes and Bs fell 10 percentage points between 2019 and 2021, according to WBEZ, while Ds and Fs jumped 10 points.

Make every school a good option

It is not known whether the CPS could modify the selective admission process to schools to account for the impact of the pandemic on grades. But pandemic or not, one change that makes sense is an admission lottery for all students who reach a certain academic threshold.

When so many high performing students compete to get into a few schools, the line between admission and exclusion becomes smaller and smaller – and students whose parents can afford tutoring and similar resources to teach them. this final benefit get the benefit.

“Once you cross a certain threshold, then the whole idea of ​​meritocracy becomes questionable,” said Elaine Allensworth, Lewis-Sebring director of the University of Chicago Consortium on Academic Research. “At any given time, what’s the real difference between a GPA of 4.0 and 3.9? “

To give students more choice, CPS has been successful in improving high schools in its neighborhood, for example by offering more IB programs and Advanced Placement classes. Military and charter high schools are also options.

Research has shown that academic outcomes, such as high school graduation and college admission, are just as good for students who attend high-performing neighborhood or charter high schools as they are for students. students from the best selective high schools, Allensworth pointed out.

This is especially true for students in IB programs. A study by the Consortium found that graduates of IB programs in neighborhood high schools performed better academically – they were more likely to go to top universities and achieve better college grades – than students selective high schools in the city.

It is important to ensure that elite high schools are accessible.

It is more important to make each high school an elite.

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