Entry into Chicago’s test-in classical schools is among the most competitive in the city – with some parents investing in exam prep for children as young as 4 to help gain access.
Chicago Public Schools runs only five of the the high-level liberal arts schools, but now it plans to add two more—one in Bronzeville and one in the Southwest neighborhood of West Elsdon. It also plans to expand programming at three classical campuses, the district announced Friday. CPS will expand McDade (in Chatham), Poe Classical (in Pullman), and Decatur Classical (in West Ridge), to add seventh and eighth grades to the schools. The three schools, all Level 1-plus, have up to now only offered kindergarten through sixth grade.
The new schools will be K-8.
The investment in classical education is part of a sweeping Friday announcement of a new $1 billion capital plan, which includes two new West Side open-enrollment schools. According to the capital plan, the three campus expansions will cost $40 million ($10 million each to Poe and McDade and $20 million to Decatur). The plan does not specify when construction will begin.
Classical schools are selective-enrollment public schools that offer accelerated academics with a liberal arts focus, and students must test in. But students who previously attended Poe, McDade, and Decatur encountered a cliff when the programs ended at sixth grade: They had to either test into highly competitive seventh- and eighth-grade programs or find a spot in a magnet or private school until high school.
Kelli Denard is a parent who attended Friday’s press conference. Her son just graduated from McDade and will be attending Gwendolyn Brooks’ academic center next school year for seventh grade; Brooks offers grades 7 through 12. “Our students are academically prepared but not necessarily emotionally prepared to attend academic centers,” she said.
She said that there is too much emotional pressure for students to test into the academic centers, and added that it’s too much pressure for the parents, too. “Many parents have spent a lot money on test prep,” she said.
Denard, a member of McDade’s Parent Teacher Association, said that McDade and Decatur parents worked together on their expansion plans and jointly presented them at Board of Education meetings earlier this year. She said that the board did not guarantee the expansion at the time because it said it did not have enough funding.
Chicago district CEO Janice Jackson said in Friday’s announcement that when she visited Decatur a few months ago, “I couldn’t promise you anything because we didn’t have any money at the time. But thanks to an improved financial outlook for the district, we’re able to stand here and celebrate today.”
To read more about the $1 billion capital plan, click here.