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Learn the differences between CPS magnet preschools, tuition-based preschools and Chicago Early Learning preschools. Get insight on finding the right preschool setting for your little one. This hour-long video covers the various types of programs available, factors to consider, application processes, and how to time your search to find the best preschool option to meet your family’s needs.
As summer nears, families across Chicago inevitably start to ask themselves if their child should go to preschool or pre-kindergarten. If they are currently enrolled in an early childhood program, they start to wonder if they need to find a pre-kindergarten program when their child turns three, leaving their current program even if they are happy there. In a city full of early childhood options, it’s no surprise that families find themselves asking this question as they start to think about where they would like to send their 3- or 4-year-olds for early education experiences. The number of options can make the decision an overwhelming task! But it’s important to note that when it comes to preschool and pre-kindergarten in Chicago, the two are used interchangeably for programs that provide care and education prior to the start of kindergarten. [Related: Play all day? That's exactly what your preschooler should be doing] What’s the difference? The biggest difference in these labels is actually a political one. The national conversation around universal pre-k centers around the idea that all 4-year-olds should have an opportunity to participate in early childhood programs. The term pre-k is used to define the year prior to kindergarten, while preschool is the term used to define all early learning programs from birth to age five. In Chicago, the differences between a program that refers to itself as a preschool and a program that refers to itself as a pre-kindergarten are rooted in the program’s individual philosophy, marketing techniques, and the image the program wants to present to families. What are parents really asking when they are asking about preschool or pre-k? I’ve discovered over the years that when families ask if their child should attend preschool or pre-k, what they are really asking is which program will best prepare their children for kindergarten. That answer isn’t as simple since each family needs to take into account their own ideas about early childhood education, their child’s personality, and what program makes the most sense logistically for their family. [Related: Chicago Preschool Primer (members-only video)] What questions should families be asking if not “preschool or pre-K”? Do we need an early learning program that also provides full daycare? Do we want our child to attend an independent school that may start admissions at 3 or 4 years instead of kindergarten? Does it make more sense for our family to have our youngest child attend a CPS preschool program in the same school as our older children? What do we want our child’s early learning experience to be? For example, do we want a program that promotes outdoor education, or is rooted in the arts or the sciences, or is centered on community and learning to be a good citizen? If there isn’t a difference between preschool and pre-k, what should families look for in an early learning setting? Is the program clearly able to articulate their philosophy, curriculum, and child development? Do the teachers and administrators have training in early childhood education and child development? Do the classrooms focus on the development of the child’s social, emotional, physical, and cognitive growth?
As you are researching preschools for your little one and weighing your options, did you know that Chicago Public Schools offers many part-time and full-day, school-based and affordable preschool programs at select CPS schools across the city? Perhaps more importantly, if you thought you missed the preschool application boat for next fall, it’s not too late to apply for a seat in this program for the 2022-2023 school year. It’s called Chicago Early Learning (CEL), formerly known as “Ready To Learn” or “Preschool for All.” The application window typically opens in April, and will stay open until seats are filled. Unlike CPS’s full-time, tuition-based pre-K (TBPK), which requires you to apply directly with each school for admission, the CEL program’s application process is centralized with application sites located throughout the city and tuition is based on a sliding scale. You can apply online at www.chicagoearlylearning.org and find out quickly if you have a spot or will be put on a waitlist. Here are a few more details about Chicago Early Learning: Programs are either half-day (2.5 – 3 hours) with morning and/or afternoon sessions available at each school, or full-day (7 hours, which CPS has been increasingly adding) options, so be sure to filter your search. (Universal PreK for 4-year-olds is gradually being implemented.) Programs offer a well-rounded and evidenced-based curriculum with assessments to ensure students are on track for kindergarten. Tuition is on a sliding scale based on household income. Families can search for and review sites with the Find & Compare online tool, which can filter by hours, duration and program feature. Out of 600 school and community-based programs, each child may apply up to 2 sites but can only be accepted to one. Separate applications for each child can be made under a family’s account, but CPS cannot guarantee that siblings will be placed together. Chicago Early Learning does not include private schools, magnet, Montessori or tuition-based schools. Priority is given to 4-year-olds for CPS based programs, while 3-year-olds will have community-based program sites to choose from. How to apply: All Chicago residents, regardless of income, are welcome to apply for a seat to any CEL program location. Families can apply online, in person at one of several Family Resource Centers, or by phone at 312-229-1690. When applying online, there are 3 steps: 1) create an account, 2) fill in family employment and income info, child’s info and rank up to 2 program choices, and 3) if selected, you will be instructed how to verify your child’s spot. Verification requirements for CEL include: Proof of child’s age (children must be 3 or 4 years old and potty trained by September 1 of the entry school year), proof of residency, and proof of current income of parent(s) or guardian(s) of child. The City of Chicago prioritizes eligibility for these programs based on factors such as age, income, and child or family history. Starting in June, families may be notified immediately if they are placed in a program or if they will be put on a waitlist. If a family is offered a spot to their top-ranked school, they will not be placed on a waitlist for their second-ranked school. Families have up to 2 weeks to “verify” placement by visiting a Family Resource Center. After verification, the final step is to enroll your child at the preschool site. Many parents across the city find the Chicago Early Learning preschool program not only affordable and convenient, but also a great way to transition children into a preschool curriculum with the flexibility of a shorter school day, if available, or full-day options nearby. With many CEL programs housed in neighborhood and/or magnet schools, they're also a good way to help you determine whether a particular CPS school (or public school, in general) is a good fit for your child and your family. These programs do not guarantee admission to the participating school’s elementary program, however, unless that school is your assigned neighborhood school. Visit www.chicagoearlylearning.org for more information about the program and to access a complete list of program locations and application sites. Helpful FAQs can be found here. Updated winter 2022
As with all things pandemic, it’s been quite the year for Chicago parents who have applied for Chicago Public School (CPS) seats at Open Enrollment, Magnet, Magnet Cluster and Selective Enrollment Elementary Schools for the 2021-2022 school year. CPS has announced that first round notifications for three magnet preschools (Suder, Drummond and Inter-American) and all lottery-based and selective enrollment elementary (K-8th grade) results will be released after 5pm on Friday, May 28, 2021. This is over a month after the results are typically released, prolonging an already unusual application year. An email and a robocall will be sent to the contact information in the student’s online application file with directions on how to access the online notifications and how to accept an offer, if applicable. Let the nail-biting begin! Are you a first-time CPS applicant, or just curious about the process? Here’s a quick run-down on what to expect from your notification(s): Magnet, magnet cluster and open enrollment lottery applicants: Once results are available, online applicants at GoCPS will see a “View Application Status” button next to each student’s name on the Student Dashboard. The results screen will list all of the schools you applied for and next to each school’s name, an indication of whether your child was offered a seat or waitlisted. If waitlisted, there will be a number indicating your child’s waitlist number. It is possible to receive offers from more than one lottery school, and it's also possible to be waitlisted at every school. If your child is on a waitlist that is not the general waitlist, this will be indicated as well (e.g., sibling, proximity, tier). You can also click on “View & Print Notification Letter” to see the traditional CPS letter showing the same information. Note: proximity and tier waitlists are only for the Entry Year of CPS Magnet programs (typically K only). Selective enrollment elementary school (SEES) applicants: All SEES applicants who have completed the testing requirement for the program(s) they have applied to (Classical and/or Regional Gifted Center) will receive either ONE offer or no offers. No multiple offers are given to SEES applicants applying to early elementary grades. Thus, the GoCPS portal will include your child’s test score(s) and which, if any, SEES program to which your child has been offered a seat. It will also indicate if your child has not been offered a seat yet and additional information regarding subsequent acceptance rounds. You can click “View & Print Notification Letter” to see the traditional CPS letter showing the same information. Waitlist numbers are not given for SEES applicants as open seats are filled based on test scores. Tier information is only shown for the Entry Year of a SEES program. For all programs, your GoCPS portal will indicate a deadline by which you must accept or decline your child’s seat at any of the offered schools. As of this writing, CPS has yet to release the deadline to accept a first-round offer, but in the past, families were given about two weeks to make their initial decision. The waitlist process then opens a few days after the first-round acceptance deadline. You should use this time period to virtually visit or re-visit those schools to help make or confirm your school choice. Schools should post virtual info session dates for accepted students and parents on the event calendar at the CPS website, go.cps.edu, or check each individual’s school website for more details. For lottery-based (non-selective enrollment) schools, acceptance at one school does not remove your child’s name from the acceptance and/or waitlists at any of the other lottery-based schools. In other words, you may accept an offer you received and if you later receive an offer from a school where your child was waitlisted, you may accept that offer instead and notify the previous school of the decision to withdraw. For those accepted to a SEES program, accepting your child’s seat at that program will remove your child’s name from the applicant list at all other SEES programs ranked on his/her application. If you decline an offered seat, your child’s name will remain on the applicant list(s) for all other schools ranked on their application. Accepting or declining a seat in a SEES program has no bearing on your child’s separate non-selective lottery application, if applicable. Bear in mind that after this initial notification period, waitlists will continue to move and offers will be given via phone and/or GoCPS (not mail) through the spring and into summer (and sometimes fall). It’s also important to note that when parents of waitlisted students are contacted, they are given only 48 hours (or as little as 2 hours in late summer) to accept or decline a seat. A second-round application process (formerly known as End-of-Year Citywide Options Program) will also be available (no dates released yet) to fill any open seats at magnet, magnet cluster and open enrollment schools. Please note that selective enrollment schools are NOT typically part of this “remaining seat” process with the exception of new programs or attrition years. Updated Spring 2021 Want more info? Visit go.cps.edu to learn more about CPS acceptance and notification and follow the CPS conversations on the NPN Discussion Forum. Plus, check out School Resources Map to help you make your final school decision. New to CPS applications? NPN members can watch a 4-part video on everything you need to know about CPS. Grace Lee Sawin is a co-founder of Chicago School GPS (ChiSchoolGPS.com). Chicago School GPS helps Chicago families navigate the often confusing world of public and private school searches, from preschool to high school, so that they can arrive at their school destination, no matter when they begin their journey.