With the end of 8th grade in view for James Baker, three of Chicago's top public high schools turned him away--rejections that caught the straight-A student and his family off-guard.
His test scores fell just shy of cut-offs at Lane Tech and Walter Payton, two elite college prep high schools. He lost out in the lottery for Von Steuben, a popular magnet school on the North Side.
Baker, an African American, had a major advantage over thousands of other minority students, since he lives in Lincoln Park and was guaranteed a seat in that neighborhood's top high school. But Baker and his mother, a well-informed parent who was active in the PTA at his elementary school, felt Lincoln Park's basic classes wouldn't be challenging enough. He tried out for the school's premier music program, but didn't make it.