Key Questions

1. Did the GoCPS process work as intended?

2. What programs were in high demand? Which had few applications?

3. When students were selected by lottery, did the lotteries appear to be fair in that students were selected randomly?


Chicago Public Schools (CPS) offers many high school choices for students. Yet, applying to high school is complicated. CPS offers more than 250 choice programs and 11 selective enrollment high schools (SEHS) in 132 high schools. In 2017, the Chicago Board of Education adopted a common application across all high school choice programs, including charter high schools, in order to streamline the high school application process. For incoming ninth-grade students, the Board also adopted a single best offer model for choice programs. Under this type of system, students receive only one offer from among the choice programs to which they apply. The choice program application, the SEHS application, and many elementary school applications were all moved to an online platform known as GoCPS.

Some coverage has used the lack of applications at particular schools to make inferences about students' interest in those schools. As we note in the paper, students do not need to apply to attend their neighborhood school, so application data cannot be used to ascertain student preferences for their own neighborhood school.

This paper presents information about the first year of implementation of GoCPS for students planning to enroll in ninth grade in the fall of 2018. It describes high school programs, student applications, implementation of the selection process, and student offers and acceptances. This is a first look at findings from an ongoing study.

Key Findings:

  • Most of the CPS eighth-graders in 2017-18 (91 percent, or roughly 24,500 students) completed a high school application using GoCPS.  Another 2,500 eighth-graders from outside the district also submitted an application.
  • Students were offered seats as described on the GoCPS website. In cases where a lottery determined admissions, both the assigned lottery number and whether a student was offered a seat were random for students participating in the lottery (i.e., unrelated to student characteristics or how highly a student ranked the program). In cases where application points determined admissions, students were admitted in order of points. All students admitted to a given program had higher scores than students in the same priority group who were not admitted.
  • More than 90 percent of all students who applied through GoCPS received an offer at a high school choice program they ranked: More than half received an offer at their top-ranked program and more than 80 percent received an offer at one of their top-three ranked programs. All applicants may choose to enroll in their neighborhood high school general education program.
  • Centralized information about demand for choice programs is available for the first time as a result of the centralized application process. Fifty-one out of 273 choice programs (19 percent) had more than 10 times as many applications as seats available. Twenty-one programs (8 percent) had fewer applications than seats available.

The GoCPS applicants included in this first look at GoCPS study have yet to enroll in high school. During the 2018-19 school year, we will study patterns in enrollment, including whether students enroll in the program where they accepted an offer, how many students enroll in programs at their neighborhood high schools, how many programs have enrollments at, above, or below capacity, and how those enrollments compare to projections based on accepted offers. Those findings will be released in a subsequent report.

Note: When the GoCPS working paper was released, the district simultaneously released school-by-school application and offer data. In some news coverage, it is difficult to discern the source of the data. The data shared by the district is not from the working paper. The working paper focuses on whether the GoCPS system worked as intended around applications and offers.