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Two hyper-selective Chicago schools win federal ‘Blue Ribbon’ status

Edison Regional Gifted Center was one of two Chicago schools to win federal Blue Ribbon honors in 2018. It submitted this photo to the U.S. Education Department, which runs the competition.
Edison Regional Gifted Center was one of two Chicago schools to win federal Blue Ribbon honors in 2018. It submitted this photo to the U.S. Education Department, which runs the competition.
U.S. Education Department

Two Chicago public schools — both extremely selective — can newly boast that they are “Blue Ribbon” schools, an accolade awarded annually by the U.S. Education Department.

Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy High School on the South Side and Thomas A. Edison Regional Gifted Center Elementary School on the North Side received the honor, which does not bring any financial rewards but is considered a feather in the cap for schools that earn it.

To be considered for National Blue Ribbon School status, schools must have test scores in the top 15 percent in their state, or must show extraordinary progress in narrowing the gap in scores between ethnic groups. Of the 349 schools nationally that were selected this year, 24 are in Illinois.

City and district officials touted the honor first in a statement and then at a press conference this afternoon at Brooks. “This national recognition is a testament to teachers, students, principals and parents who worked hard, raised the bar for academic success, and made Chicago proud,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in the statement.

But the award says perhaps as much about who attends the schools as it does about the work that happens inside them. Both Brooks and Edison are among the most elite schools in Chicago, enrolling students who have already posted high scores on standardized tests.

To get into Edison, located in Albany Park, children must score high on an admissions exam. Like most gifted schools, it’s also far whiter and more affluent than the city as a whole: Just 12 percent of students are black or Hispanic, according to the city’s data, and just 6 percent qualify for subsidized meals because of their families’ income.

At Brooks, almost all students are black or Hispanic, and two-thirds are from low-income families. The school is one of 11 high schools that admit students based on a combination of grades and test scores. Since 2009, all five of the selective-enrollment schools with students higher scoring, on average, than Brooks’s have also been named Blue Ribbon schools.

Among the state’s other winners were two Chicago Catholic schools. Schools that have done an especially good job narrowing test-score gaps between students of different races and backgrounds can also win, but no school in Illinois was recognized for doing that this year.

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