What nonprofits should do to help students graduate

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Nonprofits can do good things for kids, but if they’re not paying attention to what kids are doing in school, they’re not helping them graduate.

That was one of several admonitions delivered at a forum aimed at helping CPS and its external partners boost Chicago’s graduation rate, which ranges from an appalling 38 percent for African-American boys to 71 percent for white girls.

“There are a lot of really good programs out there,” said Elaine Allensworth, a co-director of the Consortium on Chicago School Research. “But if the people who work with kids don’t know how they are doing in class, they’re working blind.”  

Nonprofits can do good things for kids, but if they’re not paying attention to what kids are doing in school, they’re not helping them graduate.

That was one of several admonitions delivered Thursday at a forum aimed at helping CPS and its external partners boost Chicago’s graduation rate, which ranges from an appalling 38 percent for African-American boys to 71 percent for white girls.

“There are a lot of really good programs out there,” said Elaine Allensworth, a co-director of the Consortium on Chicago School Research. “But if the people who work with kids don’t know how they are doing in class, they’re working blind.”

More than race, poverty or even test scores, students’ course grades are the best predictor of whether they will graduate, not only from high school but also from college, Consortium studies have found. And the best predictor of grades is attendance.

So, to be most effective, nonprofits should help get students to class and get them to do the work, Allensworth said.

She also shared some preliminary results of ongoing research into why student performance falls in 9th grade. So far, the data don’t support common explanations—such as, students aren’t prepared, teachers aren’t providing enough support and large schools being intimidating. Instead, students report less monitoring–which results in more class cutting and tardiness, which then impacts grades.

As one student told researchers: “[In 8th grade] you walk around in groups. You still walk in a line. [In high school] you just walk. … It’s your choice to go to lunch or English or all those classes.”

High schools also offer more opportunities for students to get into trouble, the Consortium is finding.

The forum, entitled the Graduation Pathways Summit, was one of 155 being held across the country under the auspices of the America’s Promise Alliance, a national nonprofit founded by Gen. Colin Powell and his wife, Alma.

Allensworth presented a power point with compelling data on the factors affecting high school graduation.

In response to these and other data, CPS revised its drop-out prevention efforts in 2008.