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Elite Chicago Public Schools Admissions Probed

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Elite Chicago Public Schools Admissions Probed

Education

Elite Chicago Public Schools Admissions Probed

Elite Chicago Public Schools Admissions Probed

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A scandal is rocking Chicago's public school system. Federal investigators are among those looking into the city's elite public schools. The investigation suggests there is more to the admissions process than just the lottery that several thousand students enter each year. There are allegations parents use their clout to get their kids into certain schools.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

Chicago has had more than its share of political scandals. And now another one is rocking the citys public school system. Federal investigators are among those looking into the citys elite public schools, and that has many families thinking perhaps its not what you know but who you know thats important. Chicago Public Radios Tony Arnold reports.

TONY ARNOLD: Olga Lopezs son Alejandro will be starting his freshman year of high school this fall. He had planned on going to one of Chicago Public Schools nine elite schools, the Ivy League of the city. But the admissions process if very competitive, and it was so stressful that Lopez wondered what she could do to give Alejandro an edge.

Ms. OLGA LOPEZ: You hear these stories, and you kind of naturally start thinking, who do I know? Who do I know? Do I know anybody? And if I had been very smart, I wouldve made his godmother some top official in the Board of Ed or something.

ARNOLD: Thousands apply for the elite schools, but only a handful get in. Administrators say they look at things like grades, standardized test scores and attendance and rank students on a scale of 1,000. Alejandro scored in the mid-800s. Olga Lopez says hes never in trouble, teachers like him, but despite all that he didn't get into his school of choice. And when that happened, he looked instead outside the public school system. Lopez says it made her think, whats it take to get into a quality public school? Administrators admit its not an easy process.

Mr. DON FRAYND (Administrator, Chicago Public Schools): Certainly, theres a lot of people who want these spots. And when a student doesnt get in, people make a lot of noise. But the system is really set up to monitor for that.

ARNOLD: Don Fraynd is a former principal at one of Chicagos elite high schools, and is now an administrator for the entire school system. Fraynd says as a principal, he would hear from tons of parents appealing their kids merits.

Mr. FRAYND: You get all kinds of letters, phone calls, people stopping up to the school.

ARNOLD: Fraynd says he never got any shady offers for cash or pay-to-play opportunities, but the Chicago Tribune reports federal authorities have opened an investigation into the elite schools admission process.

Julie Woestehoff�runs Parents United for a Responsible Education, a watchdog group.

Ms. JULIE WOESTEHOFF�(Director, Parents United for a Responsible Education): Parents have not trusted this system since day one.

ARNOLD: Woestehoff�says this investigation is long overdue. She complains that wealthy and well connected parents have long been throwing around their clout on behalf of their children.

Ms. WOESTEHOFF: The rules ought to be the same for everybody, but, you know, this is Chicago. And we know that in Chicago, theres an expectation that a certain group of people who have power will be able to get their children into any school.

ARNOLD: Woestehoff�points out unqualified students who have parents with clout arent just attending public high schools. The issue has plagued top officials at the University of Illinois in recent months. Theyre accused of admitting hundreds of unqualified students. This scandal involves the president of the university, along with many high ranking elected officials.

A state panel investigating the admissions process recently recommended every trustee on the board resign. And yesterday, the chairman of the board did just that. There have been no calls for resignations at Chicago Public Schools, and Mayor Richard Daley says he doesnt think that investigation will get anywhere near the scope of that at the University of Illinois. Daley insists he hasnt heard of any parents using their clout to get their kids into Chicagos elite public schools, and says hes just happy the schools are attracting top students.

Mayor RICHARD DALEY (Chicago): People trying to get into schools, usually, theyre fleeing to the suburbs.

ARNOLD: But one student who won't be enrolled at Chicago Public Schools is Olga Lopezs son Alejandro. After he didn't get into his first choice of schools, he ended up getting a full scholarship to a private school in Chicago.

For NPR News, Im Tony Arnold in Chicago.

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