Earlier this month, the Chicago Board of Education under Democratic Mayor and former Chicago Teachers Union organizer Brandon Johnson approved a resolution to move toward ending selective enrollment for public schools serving high-achieving students in Chicago. Breaking Johnson’s campaign promises not to jettison competitive requirements to attend the city’s 11 selective-enrollment public high schools, the resolution “transitions away from …admissions/enrollment policies and approaches that further stratification and inequity in CPS and drive student enrollment away from neighborhood schools” in order to “ensure equitable funding and resources across schools.”  

In other words, according to the Chicago Board of Education and the Chicago Teachers Union, policies that differentiate between applicants based on academic aptitude and achievement, offering a more competitive secondary education to those students best prepared to benefit from its challenges and resources, are presumptively unfair.  

Having already eliminated Illinois’s only private school choice program for low-income students, the Chicago Board of Education now joins many of its counterparts around the country in ensuring that predominantly minority, low-income students in Chicago will have reduced access to decent educational options.  

In Chicago and elsewhere, moves toward the eradication of selective admission to competitive public high schools can be best understood as a morally unconscionable attack on the lives and prospects of socio-economically disadvantaged urban students and their families. Far from achieving the “equity” it seeks, this misguided policy actively victimizes high-achieving, predominantly Black and Hispanic teens from poor and working-class families while doing nothing to help their less high-achieving peers.  

Absent the universal school choice that decisions like Chicago’s show we so desperately need, selective admission to public high schools has been an invaluable catalyst toward upward mobility in the lives of generations of academically promising urban teens. Universal school choice would indeed put the neighborhood high schools that are now failing their fifth generation of disadvantaged urban students all but out of business once and for all, by disallowing them from holding predominantly poor and minority children hostage to the self-serving adults that lead teachers’ unions (sometimes while sending their own offspring to private schools). But failing this solution, selective admission to public high schools fills a necessary gap in the lives of many aspirational urban teens.  

In Chicago, for example, more than half of the students currently enrolled in the district’s 11 selective high schools are low-income, and almost 70 percent are Black or Hispanic. In seven of those 11 high schools, more than half of all students demonstrate reading and math proficiency. In the top five of those high schools, more than 85 percent of students are proficient.  

At Young Magnet High School, where proficiency rates in reading and math are 90 percent, 18 percent of the 2,121 students are Black and 27 percent are Hispanic, while 36 percent are low-income. At Brooks College Preparatory Academy, where proficiency rates in both reading and math are over 60 percent, 76 percent of the 947 students are Black and 21 percent are Hispanic, while 70 percent are low-income. Meanwhile, in Chicago’s neighborhood high schools, under 25 percent of students are proficient in reading while under 20 percent are proficient in math.  

We demonstrably degrade the life trajectories of hundreds of striving teens in Chicago, and thousands across the country, by “transitioning away from” the opportunity for achievement and upward mobility provided by the selectivity of these public high schools. This is a national disgrace. Worse, we do so under the false banner of “equity” — which is, even in theory, a counterproductive way to raise the floor by lowering the ceiling, and in practice fails to raise the floor at all — by putting the patronizing imprimatur of “racial justice” on policies that in fact actively perpetuate both racial and socioeconomic injustice.  

This is the so-called logic of “equity”: Because some low-income, minority students have not demonstrated academic promise or work ethic sufficient to attend one of these selective high schools, the low-income, minority students who have demonstrated these capabilities must not have access to their resources either.  

Do we accept this erasure of individual merit and opportunity in the service of collective mediocrity for middle- or upper-middle-class kids of any race? Of course not.  

Yet supposed progressives gleefully impose this horror upon low-income minority kids by putting the existence of failed schools over the needs of children, and call it progress. After all, the attendance of some higher achievers at ineptly run neighborhood schools where physical safety is of greater concern than intellectual achievement — a reality that can be laid squarely at the door of these same progressives, who perpetuate nonsense like “restorative justice” that victimizes the predominantly poor and minority student bodies on whose behalf they claim to labor — can marginally raise the abysmal proficiency rates at these schools.  

But this marginal and meaningless increase in academic proficiency, if it even comes to pass, comes at the expense of these high-achieving kids’ futures — and without any significant impact on those of the less high-achieving kids that these justly vilified activist-bureaucrats already had in their self-serving clutches.    

Kids of all demographic backgrounds who come from families with sufficient socio-economic resources, of course, will simply opt out of the Chicago public schools altogether, either by relocating outside the city or by paying for private or parochial school. In doing so, they’ll be enacting for themselves the school choice that everyone except the predominantly minority urban poor already takes for granted.  

The resultant continued devolution of academic achievement among those who can least afford it, in Chicago and across the country, will be emblematic of this era, in which progressives demonstrate renewed zeal for victimizing the most underserved Americans while pretending to serve them.