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(Missed Part 1 and Part 2 ? No worries. Click the links.)

So, we’ve determined that:

  • CPS offers many, many different choices of Elementary Schools within the District.
  • Figuring out which schools your child is eligible to apply for and where they are is not exactly straightforward (102 pages? Really?)

Now, let’s discuss a few more layers of complexity on top of all of that.

At heart (as well as in practice), I am a designer. Not an artist-type designer.  A “human factors, how-can-we change-the-form-or-function-of-this-to-make-it-easier-to-use” type designer. (Sorry for the extreme oversimplified explanation of the profession, designers.)

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How is the CPS Options for Knowledge Guide like a VCR circa 1980?

Both are pretty difficult to figure out on your first, second or third try.

So when I am working with students of design and we are assessing the requirements of the people that they are designing their product/process/experience/system for, I ask them to lay out all of their assumptions about those users, like:

  • What is the native language of the users?
  • What are their previous experiences with similar categories of this product/process/experience/system?
  • What is their access to information and technology like?
  • What is their current understanding of the special language used for this product/process/experience/system?
  • How do they perceive permissions and interpersonal power in the context of this product/process/experience/system?
  • And on and on.

And then we do a bit of primary user research and test those assumptions about the users.  I don’t think I’ve ever had a student (or colleague) predict everything in advance of the research, ever. We’ve always managed to uncover something interesting and new that informs our design.

Why does this matter when it comes to CPS Elementary Schools access and enrollment and “choice”?

Let’s be honest here.  If my best chances for understanding how to navigate the CPS Options for Knowledge “choices” rely upon my:

  • Speaking and reading at a post-grade school level in English or Spanish.
  • Understanding the acronyms, special language, and requirements required by the enrollment processes. (And understanding that there is more than one process.)
  • Understanding the (often subtle) differences between types of schools.
  • Having access to technology and having enough tech literacy to navigate the interfaces.
  • Knowing all of this in enough time ahead of required deadlines for testing and application submissions.
  • Being able to physically get my student to the testing opportunity and location assigned to him/her.
  • Being able to physically get to other school options (charters, contract schools) to obtain information and applications.
  • Having time during operational hours (not at work, have transportation, etc.) to interact with the schools I’m interested in.
  • Feeling safe crossing specific boundaries (gangs, etc.) between neighborhoods.
  • Having resources to transport my student to and from a school option that doesn’t offer a bus option.
  • Knowing which schools would best serve my child’s potential special needs (IEP or LEP) should they have or require one.
  • Being able to afford the housing in a neighborhood close to the school I would choose.
  • Wow. I could go on and on here.

Do you see where I am going with this?  If my ability to navigate this very complex and “choice”-laden system is dependent upon all of the above and more?  Then I may quit before I even begin. Or just opt for the geographically closest option because I just can’t make sense of it…even if I want to.

For the majority of CPS students, especially low income students, CPS School “Choice” is often not really choice.  It can be income, location, luck, history, experience, many things other than choice.

Unless the choice is to just take your “default” option for school, and NOT choose to pursue other options. Because that is a type of choice. I guess. Kinda.

But I don’t think that choice is what CPS intends when they talk about choice.  That’s my guess.

One thought on “Know Your Context: CPS Access — Choice? Part 3

  1. Pingback: Know Your Context: CPS Access — Choice? Part 2 | Apples 2 Apples in Chicago Public Schools

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