Schools

Metropolitan schools can be daunting.  From preschool to high school prep, Chicago is home to a plethora of private, public, and charter schools.  There is no one size fits all for city schools.  As every child has a unique set of characteristics and needs, each school type and school itself has its own personality and offerings.

Which are the best? It’s simply a matter of opinion and preference and what works best for you and your family.  You can judge by school ratings, social media reviews, and test scores, but there’s still the issue of fit.  While one child may thrive in an advanced competitive setting, another may flourish in a team-based all-ages approach to problem solving.  Educate yourself of what each education type has to offer and go from there.  

Public Schools - Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is the third largest school district in the country and offers free education to over 400,000 students city-wide in over 600 schools.  They are supported by local, state, and federal government funds.

CPS offers various types of school settings:  Charter, CTE-College and Career Academies, International Baccalaureate High Schools, Magnet Cluster Schools, Magnet Elementary Schools, Magnet High Schools and Programs, Military Academies, Open Enrollment Schools, Selective Enrollment Elementary Schools, and Selective Enrollment High Schools, all of which are described at the CPS Office of Access and Enrollment.
 

BIRTH TO THREE YEARS OLD

CPS works with non-school-based child care centers in communities across the city through Community Based Partnership Program to serve working parent with full-day quality childcare.  The Creative Curriculum Literacy Approach is used by certified early childhood educators to promote school readiness through children’s health and development.

PRESCHOOL

There is huge demand for the limited number of CPS neighborhood schools that offer educational learning for 3- and 4-year old children.  While neighborhood children are given preferential treatment in the application process, typically there are more applications than preschool spots, so living within the boundaries of the school does not guarantee placement in the school.  There are 2 CPS preschool types:  Tuiton-based preschool, which offers a 10-hour school day/child care for a fixed tuition during the school year only, and Ready to Learn, otherwise known as Preschool for All, which offers free standardized curriculum half- and full-day preschool for 3 and 4-year olds with disabilities, and those with the greatest financial need.

Most elementary school magnet programs, specialized schools that focus their curriculum on one particular subject area, don’t start until kindergarten, with the exception of Drummond, Inter-American, Mayer, and Suder, whose magnet preschools feed directly into their kindergarten magnet school.

Additionally, the City of Chicago offers early learning programs for children 3-5 that operate out of community-based organizations, child care facilities, and Chicago Public Schools.  These fee-based and subsidized programs are broken into two categories:  Head Start and Childcare.  For more information or to register, visit Chicago Early Learning.

 

ELEMENTARY (K-8)

Neighborhood Schools - Every residence in Chicago feeds into one neighborhood elementary school.  If you live within a particular Chicago Public School boundary map, your child has guaranteed admittance at any time during the year. While an application is not necessary, typically you will need a lease or bill of sale for a home within the neighborhood boundaries to register your child in-person.  

Open Enrollment Schools - A number of neighborhood elementary schools offer a wide gamut of activities and programs outside of the academic curriculum that attract students residing outside the attendance boundaries. Applicants outside of the neighborhood attendance area can be admitted through the CPS computerized lottery system.  No testing is required and neither the sibling nor general lottery is contingent on tiers.  To apply, visit CPS Office of Access and Enrollment starting October 1, where the application system is open through December 11.

Magnet Schools - These specialized elementary schools customize their curriculum to one particular subject area, such as math/science, humanities, Montessori, or world language in grade school.  Instead of attendance boundaries, most magnet schools dictate an application, regardless of where you live in the city.  No testing is required and kids are selected through a computerized lottery that considers the tier system.  Two lotteries exist for magnet grade schools, the sibling lottery, and the general lottery. Transportation is usually provided to most magnet school students who live more than 1.5 miles but less than 6 miles from the school. Magnet elementary schools are designed for all students and DO NOT provide an accelerated curriculum.  There are 48 magnet grade schools in Chicago.

Magnet Cluster Schools - These specialized neighborhood schools accept students who live within the school’s neighborhood boundaries. Their curriculums focus on either fine and performing arts, world language, International Baccalaureate Primary or Middle Years, or technology.  While transportation is not provided to these schools, students who live outside of the neighborhood attendance boundary may apply to any magnet cluster school through the CPS computerized lottery system.  Magnet cluster schools offer both a sibling application lottery, as well as a general lottery, neither of which consider tiers.  To apply, visit CPS Office of Access and Enrollment starting October 1, where the application system is open through December 11.  Over 100 magnet cluster schools operate in Chicago.

Selective Enrollment Schools - Citywide accelerated schools meant to challenge Chicago’s gifted and talented students, these schools require testing and application for entrance.

 

Regional Gifted Centers - K-8 institutions that foster resourceful, self-starting critical thinkers with passion, creativity, and the the want to develop individual talents.  The accelerated curriculum focuses on organizational skills and problem-solving.  Admission testing required and students applying to grades 5-8 must pre-qualify to take the exam, based on their NWEA scores.  Apply online.

 

Regional Gifted Centers for English Learners - K-8 schools designed for high ability students who study English as a second language to Polish, Russian, or Spanish.  While the core is similar to the Regional Gifted Centers, these institutions cultivate fluency and literacy in both English and the students’ home languages.  Admission testing required and students applying to grades 5-8 must pre-qualify to take the exam, based on their NWEA scores.  Apply online.

 

Classical Schools - K-6 offerings, except Skinner West which offers K-8, in a highly structured, accelerated environment approximately one grade level above the current grade.  This liberal arts-based agenda promotes high-level achievement in literature, mathematics, language arts, world language, and the humanities.  Admission testing required and students applying to grades 5-8 must pre-qualify to take the exam, based on their NWEA scores.  Apply online.

 

Academic Centers - Grades 7-8 college prep program for academically advanced middle-schoolers, housed in high schools.  Academic Center students may earn limited high school credits, as well as take advanced placement college-level courses as early as tenth grade. Completion of grades 7 and 8 in academic centers guarantees students a high school spot in the same school.  Admission testing required, but students must pre-qualify to take the exam, based on their NWEA scores.  Apply online.  

 

International Gifted Program - grades 6-8 at Lincoln Elementary School.  This intensive study of English, French, social studies, laboratory science, mathematics, technology, arts, physical education, library science, and advanced research is designed to allow intellectually able students to be schooled in their least restrictive environment and to mature at an fast pace. Admission testing required but students must pre-qualify to take the exam, based on their NWEA scores.  Apply online.

 

Comprehensive Gifted Programs and Specific Aptitude Programs - within-school curriculum designed for academically advanced students. Housed in designated magnet, magnet cluster, and open enrollment schools, the Comprehensive Gifted Programs apply to students in grades 1-8 in all subjects, while Specific Aptitude Programs are pullout programs in particular subject areas, for individual grade levels.  Testing is not required.  Students must be accepted through the computerized lottery system or enrolled via attendance boundary; assessment will then be done to determine whether students are eligible for the school's gifted program.

 

Charter Schools - Public schools approved by the Chicago Board of Education, but whom operate independently from each other and CPS.  They are open to all Chicago children and are operated by community organizations, universities, foundations, and teachers, yet held accountable for academic achievement through CPS.  Sometimes considered cutting edge, they often challenge standard education practices and may specialize in a particular area, such as art, technology or basic core-subjects. Some offer smaller classes and more individual attention than conventional public schools.  Students must apply and are traditionally admitted based on lottery;  there are no attendance boundaries.  Each school’s curriculum, hours of operation, school calendar, and admissions process is different.  For a list of current Chicago Charter Schools, Search Schools and type in charter

 

HIGH SCHOOL

Neighborhood Schools - Every residence in Chicago feeds into one neighborhood high school.  If you live within a particular Chicago Public School boundary map, your child has guaranteed admittance at any time during the year. While an application is not necessary, typically you will need a lease or bill of sale for a home within the neighborhood boundaries to register.  

International Baccalaureate® (IB) Programs - rigorous programs that encourage international-mindedness, a lifelong positive attitude toward learning, and a peaceful world through compassion and respect. Partnering with schools, governments, and international organizations, the IB Programs are accessible to students in 138 countries. Attendance of Information Session and pre-qualification through NWEA MAP scores and 7th grade GPA required for admission. Students are selected on overall applicant score of points; those who meet or exceed the minimum cutoff scores will be offered entrance.  Those living within the attendance boundaries of the school are given preferential points toward final score; students who meet the minimum application requirements, attend the Information Session, and are enrolled in the school’s Middle Years Programme partner or Academic Center program will be automatically admitted. 

Magnet High Schools -  Schools located throughout the city which most do not rely on attendance boundaries.  Each offers one or more specialty programs, such as fine and performing arts, agricultural sciences, or International Baccalaureate.  Students must pre-qualify for application based on scores from the NWEA MAP, and are then selected through a CPS computerized lottery which consists of the sibling, proximity, and general lotteries that consider the tier system.  Magnet programs also exist within high schools and offer specialized programs to students enrolled in the schools.

Military Academies - these academically rigorous environments focus on leadership and citizenship, and prepare students not only for attendance of the 4-year college or university of their choice, but also for successful careers and a life of active citizenship.  Designed for highly motivated students, each academy focuses on a specific branch of the military and experienced teaching staff at each Military Academy is joined by a small team of retired military personnel who are branch-certified instructors.  Extracurricular trips, activities, and academic opportunities are but a few of the perks offered to students at these Academies.  Interested applicants must attend an Information Session and pre-qualify based on NWEA MAP scores.  Final determination is based on an overall score of points based on NWEA MAP scores, 7th grade GPA, 2-part Military Academy Assessment, and Essay.  While applicants outside of Chicago can be considered for acceptance, all attendees must have proof or residency within the city of Chicago by July 1 preceding the school year.  List of Military Academies.

Career & Technical Education (CTE) College & Career Academies (CCA) - Hands-on training high schools that give students a head start on preparing for their futures in specific industries while simultaneously taking all CPS college prep core courses like math, science and English.  In addition, CCA students may be able to attain industry-recognized certifications, participate in job shadows and internships.  Both Lottery Academies and Selective Academies exist; while there are no minimum criteria for application to the Lottery Academies and most Selective Academies, both Selective Academies Hancock College Prep and Jones College Prep require students to prequalify for consideration, based on NWEA MAP scores.  Lottery Academies will select students based on lottery, while Selective Academies select student based on highest overall applicant score of points from 7th grade GPA and NWEA MAP scores.  Those students living within the attendance overlay boundaries of Hancock and Jones will be given preferential points toward final score.  Apply online.

Selective Enrollment High Schools - these challenging college prep curriculum schools provide academically advanced students with a rigorous load of mainly honors and Advanced Placement (AP) courses.  Students are expected to be self-driven and highly engaged with their studies. Pre-qualification based on NWEA MAP scores is required before selective enrollment testing can be conducted. Applicants should learn everything they can about what the competition is like at each of the Selective Enrollment High Schools, including attending an Open House or shadow day so that realistic and sound decisions are made as to where to apply.  Students are selected using a High School Selective Enrollment points system that take socio-economic tiers into consideration

Charter Schools - Public schools approved by the Chicago Board of Education, but whom operate independently from each other and CPS.  They are open to all Chicago children and are operated by community organizations, universities, foundations, and teachers, yet held accountable for academic achievement through CPS.  Sometimes considered cutting edge, they often challenge standard education practices and may specialize in a particular area, such as art, technology or basic core-subjects. Some offer smaller classes and more individual attention than conventional public schools.  Students must apply and are traditionally admitted based on lottery;  there are no attendance boundaries.  Each school’s curriculum, hours of operation, school calendar, and admissions process is different.  For a list of current Chicago Charter Schools, Search Schools and type in charter

 

SCHOOL RATINGS

Each CPS school is classified into one of five levels of performance, based on factors such as test scores, student improvement, attendance and college enrollment.  The following are the categories, rated best to worst.  The majority of all CPS schools are in one of the top two levels.

Level 1+ Highest performance; nationally competitive school

Level 1 High performance; good school choice; minimal support needed

Level 2 + Average performance; additional support from network team needed

Level 2 Below average performance; increased support from network

Level 3 Lowest performance; school in need of Intensive Support

To view the rating or status of a specific school, visit CPS School Locator and search for schools by name or location.
 

Private Schools - Just under 500 private schools serve approximately 80,000 Chicago students.  These schools rely on tuition payments from parents and often funds from nonpublic sources such as religious organizations, endowments, grants, and charitable donations. Per PrivateSchoolReview.com, the average tuition for Chicago private elementary schools is $7,694 and $11,262 for elementary schools.  Private schools usually dictate applications and may be co-ed or single-sex schools.

Types of Schools

Independent schools - Nonprofit schools that are governed by a boards of trustees and traditionally are independent in philosophy and the way in which they are financed and managed.  While they can be affiliated with religious institutions, they do not draw funds nor guidance from those institutions.  Some independent schools are members of the National Association of Independent Schools, which means they are state accredited and agree to practice nondiscriminatory policies.

Parochial schools - Church-related schools, owned and operated by religious affiliates.   About half of the private schools in Chicago are Parochial.  Traditionally, the academic curriculum is enhanced by mandatory daily religious instruction and prayers.  Teachers can be clergy or laypersons, with or without formal teaching degrees.  Some parochial schools do not require student affiliation with the chosen religion of the school, but will still require participation in daily religious education and prayer.

Proprietary schools - schools run for profit. This is a relatively new category of school. They do not answer to any board of trustees or elected officials, so they claim to be able to respond quickly to the demands of the market.  Many belong to an organization called the National Independent Private Schools Association. Tuition is comparable to that of private, nonprofit schools.

New private schools are opening their doors each year and the choices are endless, but a few of the current popular private schools are listed below:

Bennett Day School - PK - 8
Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School - Early Childhood - 8
British International School of Chicago - PK - 12
Catherine Cook School - PK - 8
Chicago Academy of the Arts - 9 -12
Chicago Waldorf School - Early Childhood - 12
Francis W. Parker School - PK - 12
Fusion Academy Chicago - 6 - 12
GEMS World Academy Chicago - PK - 12
Greenfields Academy - PK - 8
Latin School of Chicago - PK - 12
Morgan Park Academy - PK - 12
St. Ignatius College Prep - 9-12
University of Chicago Lab School - PK - 12