The Chicago Public Schools Single Application: A Fix We Can All Get Behind

This is what high school enrollment looks like right now in Chicago. Step one: investigate which schools offer the optimal programs, with hundreds of variables from school to school. Step two: navigate 250+ different applications, most with their own deadlines, processes, and admission criteria. Step three: apply to a single school. Step four: repeat.

For those who have had a child attend high school in Chicago, you already know that navigating this process is a nightmare. More than 70 percent of Chicago families will choose a high school outside of their “assigned” neighborhood school, but the current process for selecting a high school is a crushing burden on families. We’ve heard this from families across the city — from single parents, working more than one job to eighth graders desperate to find the right fit for high school on their own, and even families with the time and resources to actually sort through the application process.

So who prevails? It’s the affluent families who can hire private consultants to maneuver through the application and enrollment system. Think about that. A whole business model built around a broken system.

This fractured process is also the reason we began Kids First Chicago to support families through enrollment services. When you talk to actual families–real people, navigating this process in real time–the need for a fix becomes all too apparent. A fix is most critical for those families in our South and West Side communities, where the school down the street is not always the optimal option for them. I watched a mom break down in tears as we helped her daughter apply to several high schools.

For more than 10 years, we’ve known the system is broken but we haven’t mustered the collective will to fix it. But we’re finally seeing some light at the end of this tunnel.

I applaud Chicago Public Schools for announcing the rollout of a high school “Single Application”–not because it will fix all that ails in the system but because it’s a big step in the right direction. A single application ensures parents are aware of all of the options available to them. It helps eliminate any “secret handshakes,” for admitting students who are more “desirable” or better connected in the system. And fewer students will be switching schools after the school year has already started, causing less disruption in their education during their critical first year of high school.

This is good for kids. It is good for that mom who broke down and thanked us in our enrollment workshop, and the many more people we should be helping through this process. It’s good for Chicagoans and good for our city.

It will not be easy to implement a single application system that works for all families and schools and there will be bumps along the way. But I know the potential benefits far outweigh the potential pitfalls.

So let’s press pause on the politics and conspiracy theories. Let’s give CPS the benefit of the doubt on getting this done and ask, “How can we help?”

Learn more about how to support the Single Application here →