A City Divided: The disparity of the Chicago Public Schools

One day, before my son was born, I was with a group from my parish and the topic of education came up. I was in the minority – meaning I was the only one – that was advocating for public school. One of the major reasons I had decided that early on was my very positive experience with the Chicago Public Schools or CPS. This year I fulfilled that promise by enrolling my son in CPS.

My experience with CPS

Elementary School


When I was in grade school I remember a lot of my classmates complaining that they did not have enough time to finish their homework assignments the night before. I had a hard time understanding that because after my 5 minute walk home I had plenty of time to complete my homework, play video games, eat dinner and watch TV before going to bed. Once I was older and started driving around the city I realized how far they traveled just to get to school. Then it all made sense. Some of these kids were being bussed in from the South Side of Chicago. It was the principal’s way of trying to give them a better opportunity.

Solomon Elementary, a neighborhood school on the far North Side of Chicago, was not one of the top schools in the city, but it could provide a better education than a neighborhood school on the South Side. Unfortunately the kids had a two to three-hour commute in rush hour traffic to and from home. This meant they had to be on the bus at 6/7 am and wouldn’t get home until 6/7 pm. This policy has since been abolished and you now have to live within 6 miles of a school to be busses in.

For the most part, where you lived dictated the average grade you were earning. The kids in my class who lived in the neighborhood generally received higher grades than those that were bussed in. This meant when it was time to apply for high school, the neighborhood kids had a much easier time getting into the elite CPS high schools, which were mostly on the North Side anyway.

High School

I was fortunate enough to be accepted to Northside College Preparatory High School (Northside), the city’s first “college prep” school that opened in 1999. It would later become the top high school in the city and one of the top high schools in the nation. It was, in my opinion, the best experience I could have asked for during my formative years.
Northside provided the resources and support so you could not only succeed, but excel in your academic career. It was also one of the most rigorous curriculum that pushed us to learn how to think critically instead of regurgitating facts. Most of our teachers were young professionals that came to teaching from their professions or were still practicing their craft while teaching. This gave a us a real world appreciation for what we were learning.

My freshman year was very overwhelming because Solomon was not as rigorous and therefore did not prepare me for the amount or type of work I was assigned. Most of my class was made up of students from Edison, a gifted public elementary school – also on the city’s far North Side. 

When I received my first five-week progress report I was failing English. My parents were not just upset, but confused mostly. This was not something they had ever seen from me. The next time I had English class my teacher asked to me stay after and told me that he could work with me after school to ensure that I would be doing well by the time the semester was over. It took a lot of work that I wasn’t used to doing, but eventually I got my grade up.

This was an eye opening experience for me and would set me up to succeed in the rest of my high school academic career.

Reflection on CPS

My experience with the Chicago Public Schools was overall a positive one, but I did notice some inadequacies in the system. For one, it is obvious that the city did not invest equally in the North Side than it did in the South Side. My grade school was a perfect example of what happens when such a disparity exists. Secondly, even though my grade school was better equipped than a neighborhood school on the South Side, it paled in comparison to Edison. My counterparts from that school were much better prepared to handle the curriculum at Northside.

The question I pose to our city’s elected officials is, why are we not trying to model every school after Edison and Northside? Why shouldn’t every kid grow up being taught how to think and not what to think? Our children deserve a better education and where they live in the city should not determine the quality of their education. This is the most important investment we can make in our future and sadly, we are falling short.


To read about Pierre’s experience with CPS click here.


One comment

  1. I was going to a public high school in the poor neighborhood. We were making end-meets. Elizabeth Dole was running for president. At the time, gangs has spread to high schools. So my school has decided to implement having a policeman on campus. When she was campaigning, I asked her what are we going to do about violence in school. I’ve never forgotten her answer:

    “if you don’t feel like you children is safe in public school, send your children to private or christian school.”

    Boys! how disconnected are the rich?! How disconnected are the politician!!

    They were missing the whole point of making our country safe for us and for our children. The whole point for running for public office is to make public services better, not to drive them to unaffordable and unregulated for profit school.

    With that said, I endorse standardized tests. As many schools just letting kids slide by without ever making them learn the basic math, science and English. But it’s sad that they were actually shutting down schools for not meeting the standard, and teacher started teaching the tests. If we would have just had way to have parents more involved with the children in earlier years and not just leave the education to the hands of the teachers and school. Charter school? LOL 🙂


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