Hitting Left with guest Brandon Johnson

Friday, May 12, 2006

When the going gets tough, create your own study

News from Chicago's School 'Renaissance'
May 12, 2006 Have the schools changed? Or just the studies? Just last month, the U. of C.'s Consortium on Chicago School Research found only 6.5 percent of CPS freshmen went on to earn four-year college degrees by their mid-20s, and among African-American and Latino males, only 3 percent. That study looked at the high school graduating classes of 1998, 1999, 2002 and 2003. Remember, Mayor Daley took over the school system in 1994.
When Congressman Luis Gutierrez used the Constorium's miserable numbers to build a case for himself as the city's next mayor, CPS leaders came to their boss' rescue the only way they could. They quickly produced another study showing that lots CPS kids were going to college. The Chicago Sun-Times ("CPS study paints rosier picture on grads") reports:
Despite a recent study exposing dismal college graduation rates for Chicago Public Schools students, a new CPS analysis has found that more of its college-bound grads went to four-year schools last year than the year before. Sixty-four percent of those graduates went to four-year colleges and universities in 2005 -- compared with 60.2 percent in 2004. That's significant, officials say, because studies have long found students who attend four-year institutions are more likely to complete their degrees. CPS' analysis also showed an increase in overall college enrollment -- 46 percent of graduates were college-bound last year, compared with 43.5 percent in 2004.
Schools CEO Arne Duncan is ecstatic about the new study. The Consortium study was old hat, he said. It ended three years ago. The CPS self-study goes up through 2005.
"I'm very encouraged," said schools CEO Arne Duncan. "The number of graduates going on to college is up, the number going to four-year colleges is up, and that's true for every ethnic group.
What an amazing turn around in just two years of Renaissance 2010! Well maybe not. The two studies were hardly comparing apples and apples. The Consortium study looked at how many entering freshman ended up with a college degree. The CPS self-study looked only at how many graduating seniors entered college. That way they didn't have to count hundreds of thousands of kids who droped out before the senior year. Also, by averaging in the high schools with selective enrollments, like Whitney Young and Northside College Prep, the CPS spin doctors were able to cover up the great gap that exists between these schools and neighborhood high schools. Northside Prep for example, sends about 90 percent of its kids to college while neighborhood schools send about 20 percent. Average them together and you can say that about 60 percent of CPS kids are going to college. Even with this convoluted research by the CPS bureaucracy's own Commisar of Postsecondary Education, it was almost impossible to put a smiley face on the results. Bordering on the darkly humorous were the stats from Kelvyn Park High School. The CPS study found Kelvyn Park had the worst rate of grads going to college in the whole city. The bad news was that only 21.2 percent of KP's grads went to college in 2005. But the good news was, that this was an increase over 2004 when only 20.9 went. There was also a jump in the percentage of the 21. 2 percent kids enrolling in four-year schools, from 52.1 percent to 67.1 percent. Are you dizzy with success yet?
Kelvyn Park High School Principal Sandra Fontanez-Phelan credited a higher priority placed on college enrollment with helping to boost the percentage of graduates going to four-year colleges. She also credited college prep programs in neighborhood schools like hers.
To put those numbers in perspective however, Kelvyn Park, a large (1900 students) school with a mainly Hispanic population, had 400 seniors last year compared with 600 entering freshman. Not bad for a Chicago neighborhood high school. They only lost about 200 kids between the sophomore and senior year. Of the 400 who didn't drop out by the 11th grade, about 300 graduated. The 0.3 percent increase in college-bound kids from 2004 to 2005 meant one more kid enrolled in college than in 2004. Seven more of the 21% of college-bound kids enrolled in a four-year, rather than a two-year school than did in 2004. We can't put all this on the school. How are kids supposed to afford four-year universities when even state institutions like UIC are costing $20,000/year? There are so many other factors both inside the school and outside, that influence post-secondary choices that it makes no sense to think that the differences between Whitney Young's and KP's numbers are just about curriculum or teaching methods. All this political spinning isn't really about the kids or about sending them successfully to college with the resources and academic tools needed to graduate. High schools lik KP and even Whitney Young are organized specifically not to send every kid to college. They are heavily tracked schools with AP and honors courses for the elite kids and non-college track courses for those who are deemed "not college material." In other words, the schools are doing exactly what they are organized to do, track and sort kids. We know what has to be done at schools like Kelvyn Park, to truly leave no child behind. The question is, do we as a community have the will to do it? It starts with leadership. Then we have to do away completely with 2,000-kid high schools, especially when 1,900 of those kids are from low-income, and minority families. Smaller learning environments with the same resources they have in suburban schools, a challenging, focused curriculum and highly-qualified teachers and guess what? You've got a real renaissance. _______________________________________ Kelvyn Park Principal Fires Back at the Tribune From the Chicago Reader:
The story across the front page of the April 21 Tribune reported on a gloomy new University of Chicago study on the city’s public high schools. “Of 100 Chicago Public School Freshmen, Six Will Get a College Degree,” said the headline. Back on page eight reporter Tracy Dell’Angela looked inside some Chicago schools to see what was going on there. Her sidebar noted in passing that the city’s top five schools sent at least 80 percent of their graduates to college. By contrast, “for the bottom five high schools—Kelvyn Park High School, Tilden Achievement Academy, Wells Community Academy, Orr Community Academy and Farragut Career Academy—a third or fewer of graduates enrolled in college, most of them going to two-year colleges.”
Those were the extremes. Dell’Angela sensibly focused on two schools in the middle range, George Washington and Bogan. But her story infuriated one principal, who gave me an earful, and I asked Dell’Angela this Monday if she and the principal had talked. Dell’Angela had been out of town, so the complaint was news to her. “Washington or Bogan?” she asked.
Kelvyn Park.
“It was so hurtful,” Sandra Fontanez-Phelan had told me, “and I’m really mirroring the hurt of my staff, the hurt of my kids, the hurt of my family.” She was preparing a packet of letters from teachers and students to send the Tribune, and she’d talked to her alderman, Ray Suarez, about holding a news conference to set the record straight. Fontanez-Phelan, who’s finishing her fourth year at Kelvyn Park, told me that after reading Dell’Angela’s story people from the West Logan Square community called to ask if she’s been lying to them when she says how far the school has come. “It’s irresponsible to put out information and not clearly indicate that it’s information from the past,” she told me. “It’s irresponsible not to say what’s going on today.”
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Thursday May 11, 2006 - 06:24pm (CDT)