CPS Parent

Ok, my kid’s ready for school. What the heck are my options? And what’s the difference?

So after a perfunctory search through the Chicago Public School (CPS) site, it’s pretty clear there are quite a few elementary school options to choose from.  (These early posts will probably be mostly focused around the elementary schools because I have a while before we need to think about high schools for my daughter).

While CPS breaks out the different types of schools based on how selective they are, the first thing I thought about was what type of education she would have.  There are schools that specialize in certain subjects (fine arts, STEM, etc.), some that are more diverse than others, and some that have different teaching styles.  I wish there was an easy guide to break out schools based on a variety of these different factors, but unfortunately there isn’t and I’m not sure the best way to go about creating one. (if there is interest, let me know and I can put more thought into it)

Having said that and as much as I don’t think breaking out schools based on their admissions process is a great way to determine which school might be the best fit for my (or your) child, it’s the most straightforward way to understand the CPS system.

I wrote out quick descriptions below, but also pulled together a visual guide (at the end of this post).  Seeing things illustrated visually has always helped me, so hopefully it’s helpful to anyone who reads this.


So let’s dig in, the most basic thing to know is that there are generally three types of schools:

1) Neighborhood Schools – Schools you can just enroll into

2) Non-Selective Enrollment – Schools you apply to and are placed via randomized lottery

3) Selective Enrollment – Schools you apply to and are placed based on a placement test


First, there are the Neighborhood Schools, which  are just what they sound like – schools that service kids in the immediate neighborhood.  Kids within the school’s boundaries will automatically get a spot at the school, so you just go to the school to sign up your child for school.  But don’t worry, if you’re outside a school’s boundaries but want to attend that school, then you can apply for a lottery for any open spots the school has after its filled any spots for the neighborhood kids (in other words, there’s still a chance to get into a Neighborhood School without actually being in the neighborhood).

The two types of Neighborhood Schools are Open Enrollment and Magnet Cluster Schools.  The Open Enrollment Schools offer a traditional curriculum with a wide variety of programs and activities.  Think of these as your traditional public school (if you’re a former suburbanite like me).  The Magnet Cluster Schools, on the other hand, have a focused curriculum based on one subject such as technology, the fine arts, etc.

Then there are the Non-Selective Enrollment schools that you have to apply for.  These schools require an application but select students based purely on a randomized lottery and eligible to any child within Chicago – the Magnet Schools.  his gives parents an alternative if they don’t like their Neighborhood School.  Similar to the Magnet Clusters, the Magnet Schools have specifically designed curriculum (e.g. math/science, humanities, etc).

Also among the non-selective schools are Contract Schools (i.e. private entities that are contracted with CPS) and Charter Schools.  These two types of non-selective schools can make their own rules, but generally still enroll based on a randomized lottery.

Finally, there are the Selective Enrollment Elementary Schools – schools that require prospective students to be tested, apply to the schools, and are then selected based on their test scores (although it’s slightly more complicated than that, but we’ll get into that later).

The Selective Enrollment Elementary Schools (SEES) have a myriad of options.  They all have an accelerated academic curriculum.  Classical Schools have curriculum that are accelerated by one year.  Regional Gifted Centers and International Regional Gifted Centers have curriculum that are accelerated by two years.  And then there are Academic Centers that provide an accelerated curriculum for 7th and 8th graders within a CPS High School.


There are enough options to make anyone’s head spin.  Here’s a quick little chart I built to show what options are available at a high level.  I’ll take a deep dive into each school type in the future.

Types of CPS Schools

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