Schools Get Picky

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Starting next fall, all Milwaukee public high schools will be allowed to become pickier about which students they admit.

The city's school board voted 5-4 in August to let the district's 16 high schools set admissions standards and choose among students based on their academic records, attendance, behavior, and compatibility with the school's academic focus. Supporters of the controversial policy say it will help fill the city's specialized and college-prep programs with motivated students. They predict the plan will stem the flow of middle-class families to suburban and private schools by increasing the chances that qualified students will get their first choice of a high school. "We want schools that have a focus to be able to set some standards," says Leon Todd, a board member who supported the change. "Just simply mouthing the words of high standards is creating more of a problem for us because we're losing our credibility."

Opponents counter that the new system will make some schools dumping grounds for low-achieving students and put nonwhite students at a disadvantage. Enrollment in the 103,000-student district is approximately 80 percent nonwhite and 60 percent African-American. The Milwaukee branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Milwaukee Urban League are among the groups strongly opposed to the change. "This is an attempt to resegregate the schools, either by race or class," says Jerry Ann Hamilton, the youth council adviser for the Milwaukee NAACP.

District officials say all students will have a place in the district, even if they are turned down by the schools they choose.

--Caroline Hendrie

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