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Chicago School District Slowly Improves College-Going and Graduation Rates

Backed by more than two decades of its own research on Chicago's public schools, the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute this week launched a new project to help track and improve the college-going and graduation rates of students from the nation's third largest public school system.

The "To & Through Project" is a three-part series, which will include research reports from university's research arm on the city's schools, the Consortium on Chicago School Research, and tools for parents, students and educators about what each group needs to do at each grade to ensure success at both the K-12 level and in college.

For example, parents, students and educators are expected to focus on grades and attendance in the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th grades. In 9th grade, there should be a focus on freshman On-Track (a Chicago district program aimed at keeping 9th graders in school and on the path to graduation), grades and attendance by all groups. Parents and students should home in on grades and test scores in grades 10 through 12, with a heavier emphasis on the college application process in 11th and 12th grades. Educators at those levels are expected to focus on engaging instruction, creating a college-going culture, college-matching and implementing effective strategies to assist students with college choices in 11th through 12th grades.

CPS graduation rate.JPG

The project was timed to launch with this week's research brief, which showed increases in both the high school and college graduation rates for the city's public school students.

In 2006, Consortium researchers estimated that only 8 out of 100 Chicago public school freshmen would go on to earn a four-year college degree by the age of 25. In 2014, the researchers' analysis now puts that estimate at 14 out of 100.

The increase in the number of students attending college was largely the result of improved high school graduation rates. Previous research by the university had credited the focus on 9th graders through the district's On-Track program as one of the major reasons for the higher graduation rate. Better data-tracking systems also helped.

While the four-year graduation rate increased to 73 percent from 58 percent, college enrollment rates rose only to 40 percent from 33 percent, according to researchers. And although the college enrollment rate increased, CPS students' six-year college graduation rate was only 50 percent. Many of the city's students were still not prepared for the rigor of college work. Additional barriers also got in the way of graduation, according to researchers.

The "To & Through project" will be rolled out in three parts. The first was this week's release of the newest report, along with a website with a compilation of the consortium's research on the schools and focus areas for various stakeholders. The university will release individual, school-level data in the spring and an interactive tool in the fall.

With the University of Chicago's report, the city school district also announced a partnership with 15 Chicago-area universities to help increase college enrollment for its graduates, keep them in school and improve their graduation rates. The goal of the compact, along with various other in-school initiatives, is to increase CPS students'  four-year college graduation rate to 60 percent by 2025.  

In a statement announcing the compact, Barbara Byrd Bennett, the district's chief executive officer, acknowledged the growth in the city's graduation rate and the accompanying increase in scholarships for graduates of her system. But Byrd Bennett also took note of the areas where additional efforts and supports could have an impact.  

"While we recognize this progress, we know our work isn't done until all students are prepared to enter the 21st century workforce," Byrd Bennett said. "Under this new partnership, leaders in higher education are joining together to increase the number of students who graduate and enter the workforce prepared and educated."

The district will  work with the universities and colleges that are part of the compact to develop support systems for students once they have enrolled in college. The group's members will meet quarterly to share their progress and reassess goals and objectives.

Internally, CPS has also committed to a number of initiatives—such as increasing academic rigor and providing additional social and emotional supports for students—to help them get ready for college. The district is also ramping up training for school counselors and college advisors. Through eight workshops, it is hoping to help advisers increase their knowledge of how to help students plan an appropriate path for their post-high school careers, including how to match students more effectively with the best schools.

More information on "The To & Through Project" can be found at toandthrough.uchicago.edu

Source: Image from the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research

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