Making the Grade

While I appreciate the work that went into Winning Combinations [by Dennis Rodkin, October], I deplore your simplistic approach to determining schools of excellence.

Excellence is more than test scores and statistics. It is knowing and understanding problems faced by the students in a particular school and then responding in a manner that enables each child to learn to his or her fullest potential.

Nowhere is this truer than in my own neighborhood, the most diverse in the city and the port of entry for hundreds of refugee and immigrant families. More than 90 percent of the students in our schools are low income, and an average of [25 percent] are English-language learners. These factors greatly increase the challenges the schools face, factors you don’t consider in your rankings.

The reality is that schools that accept any student who lives within their boundaries are actually doing an equal or superior job to many of the schools you listed—almost all [of which] are either in upper-income neighborhoods or are selective enrollment schools that take only the best and the brightest and have much lower percentages of low-income and limited-English-proficient students.

Schools that are succeeding should be recognized, but test scores alone don’t spell success.

Alderman, 48th Ward


Ranking colleges may help some individuals decide which to attend, but I wonder if it’s beneficial to rank elementary and high schools. In fact, I suspect it might add to the frustration of low-income families who can’t afford to move to districts that have “good” schools. A more helpful article would recommend ways to improve all schools so that every student has a chance to get a quality education.



Your ranking of Chicago elementary schools is based almost entirely on average test scores. There are several problems with this.

Such rankings are totally dependent on the type of students the school takes in. A sizable number of the schools in the list of top schools in the city are gifted centers and classical schools. Students are selected for these schools based on admissions tests, so of course these schools are going to be ranked highly when the valuation is based on test results.

Many of the other schools are magnet schools. Although admission to these schools is not based on tests, students and their parents have to make a distinct effort to apply. It is very likely that students from these extraordinarily motivated families will do better.

Moreover, all of these schools serve students from relatively advantaged households. The average low-income rate in CPS is about 85 percent. Not one of the schools on the list is at or above the average poverty rate for the system. In fact, for 15 of the 30 schools on the list, less than 25 percent of their students are low income. These schools serve a group of students that are not at all typical of most of the students in CPS.

Rather than calling these the best schools, it would be more accurate to say that these are the schools that select the most able, most economically advantaged students. My definition of a good school is one that does very well regardless of the type of students that walk through the front door.

Chief psychometrician at the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute


Yelp Yourself

[Jeff Ruby is very wrong] to dismiss Yelp and its ilk so lightly, as if it’s a bad case of the hives that will simply pass with time [“Peer Review,” Outer Drive, October]. He makes the same mistake that many traditional critics do—his reaction presupposes that Internet screeds are automatically granted the same legitimacy that [traditional media] feels it provides. [Ruby] gives Yelp readers far too little credit.

Yelp is not monolithic. Do traditional reviews collectively provide a universal, objective truth? Certainly not. One can learn to trust or disregard individual Yelpers just as one can learn to trust or disregard individual magazine or newspaper reviewers. It’s not hard to view a Yelper’s other reviews to get a quick picture of whether he’s reasonably informed or a total yahoo—easier, in fact, than it is with most traditional reviewers. And just as in the world of traditional media, the cream rises to the top.

I agree with [Ruby] wholeheartedly on one point: The traditional restaurant critic is not dead—though I think the wise critics will respond to the Internet era by retooling themselves more as teachers rather than stubbornly digging the trenches to defend their traditional turf. This battle is not one of content, but of exposure and access. Good, knowledgeable food writers will always draw the most readers. The difference is that they no longer need the backing of an editorial board to make it happen.

DOMINIC ARMATO Phoenix, Arizona


Had dinner tonight at a Thai place. It was awful. Checking various online “reviews” from random nobodies, I was amused to see that I’d just eaten in Seattle’s “best ever,” “never going to eat Thai anywhere else,” and “AWESOME!!” restaurant. Lesson learned? Random people don’t know the difference between terrifically prepared Thai food and a lukewarm plate of overcooked crap. I’ll put my faith in the pros over the masses anytime. At least they have a reputation to uphold.




“What’s your favorite building in Chicago?”

Sears (Willis) Tower. Every time I came home from deployment to another country, I always was looking for the tower in the distance!

I have a new favorite every time I go to Chicago. Great architecture. Beautiful city!

Sears Tower, Standard Oil Bldg and of course, Marshall Fields on State Street. Nuff said . . .

Carbon & Carbide, Tribune Tower, Wrigley Building, Civic Opera . . . in that order. 🙂

Monadnock, you poseurs.

The Chicago Temple Building is impressive, but I’ll go with Trump bc i got engaged there.

My favorite is Trump Tower. That building is fantastic.

United Center! Go Bulls!


We retain original business names, just as we keep our own names instead of changing them every time we move or get a new job, because we need to remember who we are and where we came from. Building names are part of a city’s identity, developed over decades or centuries. History trumps vanity every time, as well it should.

For our list of Chicago’s top 40 architectural wonders, go to


>> In our October 2010 ranking of public elementary schools [Winning Combinations], we failed to include the two schools from Avoca School District 37 in the Cook County charts. Avoca West Elementary School in Glenview should have been ranked fourth, and Marie Murphy School in Wilmette should have been ranked seventh. We have updated the online version of the school charts at to correct that oversight.

>> The list of Chicago’s OMG moments [“Mouth Wide Open,” Top 40, November] incorrectly stated that the White Sox sported uniforms with shorts only once, in a game against the Kansas City Royals. The team actually wore the shorts three times during the 1976 season.


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