This from Chicago Tribune by Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah:
Getting her son into one of the city's best magnet schools for preschool didn't mean Rosa Yang Kato could relax about kindergarten.

A year later, Kato is back at the starting line. Preschool programs at many magnet schools do not directly feed into kindergarten, so Kato is again visiting open houses at Chicago public schools, schmoozing with moms, attending parent seminars and figuring out what she needs to do to secure a seat at a top-tier elementary.

"During drop-off, pickup, on the playground, it's what all the moms talk about," said Kato, who has been so disheartened at times that she has turned to documenting the experience on a camcorder.

"I feel like I'm at the mercy of this system, like the fate of my 4-year-old is in the hands of a plastic (lottery) ball."

Every year, the competition for a precious spot in the city's top schools is fierce. Many neighborhood schools have significantly lower test scores, and parents see the competitive and magnet programs as their only option for a good public education.

But the odds of their children scoring a seat in one of the top schools are slim. And the nerve-racking admissions dance has become even more complicated by the fact that the rules keep changing — twice in the last two years.

Last year, the guidelines were rewritten to take an applicant's race out of the equation and replace it with socioeconomic factors from the applicant's neighborhood. This year, further changes to increase diversity were approved at a board meeting just a month before the Dec. 17 application deadline for the 2011-12 school year.

Even parents who thought they mastered the old system are at a loss, some wondering if their younger children will have the same opportunities as older siblings.

The bottom line is that there are many more children than spots at the elite schools. Last year, 13,065 teens took a test for 2,942 seats at the selective-enrollment high schools. For top selective-enrollment elementary schools, 10,050 students applied for 1,787 seats. Magnet schools, which choose students via computerized lottery, saw 31,185 applications for 3,352 spots.

"We're saying lots of prayers," said Jenny Khalaf, whose eighth-grader is hoping for a shot at the city's most competitive high schools. She said her daughter has had virtually no social life for two years and has forsaken extracurricular activities for extra math, English, science and language arts lessons. "We're hoping all her hard work pays off."

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