Take 5: Who’s graduating, cheating convictions, juvenile justice reform

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These young women graduated from Marshall High School in June 2011.

Marc Monaghan

These young women graduated from Marshall High School in June 2011.

At Chicago high school graduation ceremonies, many students are likely to look around and realize something odd: Few of their fellow graduates started with them as freshmen. That’s because, while the high school graduation rate is about 69 percent, only about 54 percent of students graduate from same school they entered as ninth-graders, shows an analysis of data obtained by WBEZ and Catalyst. On average, the numbers are not that much different for charter schools versus district-run high schools. But there are some anomalies: For example, Urban Prep campuses keep a third of their students.

The lowest-achieving high schools, like Robeson, Hirsch and Orr, have the lowest retention rates, although Clark, Kelly and Richards have the biggest gap between freshman retention and their official graduation rates.

WBEZ’s Becky Vevea focused on the main Noble Street Charter School campus that in 2007 had half its students leave, but last year held onto 80 percent of its freshmen. Though Noble Street charters have a reputation of losing students because of strict discipline, but seven of eight Noble schools had higher than average retention.

John Easton, former head of the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, said he was surprised by the numbers.  He notes that the cohort method of calculating graduation rates was started in Chicago by the late Fred Hess, who founded the now-defunct Chicago Panel on School Policy. The cohort method was meant to encourage schools to hold onto students. But Easton notes the good news is that students are finding second chances.

2. Another STEM schoolLast week the CPS Board of Education approved changing the education focus of Dunne in Roseland to a STEM school. The move should be a boon for the Level 1 school (Level 1 is the second highest rating of five). It will get $538,000 extra this coming fiscal year year for professional development, new equipment and two teacher positions. After that, CPS will continue to support two additional STEM teachers. The school will stay a magnet cluster school, which means it maintains an attendance boundary, but can take in students from other neighborhoods if it has space.

Dunne was one of five schools that was named a technology academy in 2008 as the district was trying to increase options for students.  But STEM-focused schools are the new thing and there was not such an academy in the area. CPS named 10 schools that took in students displaced by the 2013 mass school closings STEM academies. According to a CPS press release, students in STEM spend a lot of time in science, engineering and technology labs.

3. More experience, better teachers … The latest studies on education reveal something that will come as no surprise to veteran educators. Teachers get better over time, and their ability to boost student achievement grows throughout the first decade of his or her career,– and even longer, as EdWeek reports. In one study, researchers analyzed test scores in one urban district and found that teachers’ ability to improve achievement persisted well beyond the three- to five-year mark. This belies popular assumptions that teachers plateau after their first few years on the job.

“While the teachers did make the most progress during their first few years in the classroom, teachers improved their ability to boost student test scores on average by 40 percent between their 10th and their 30th year on the job,” according to the story.

Another study found that students of more experienced teachers were less likely to be missing from class. According to researchers at the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, the link between experience and lower rates of student absenteeism could be because teachers get better at motivating students and in classroom management with experience.

4. Cheating convictionsEleven of the 12 Atlanta educators accused in a major public schools cheating scandal were convicted this week on felony charges of conspiring to change students’ answers on standardized tests. The case — which was prompted by an investigation by The Atlanta Journal Constitution — raised questions about the wisdom of pushing educators to improve students’ standardized tests scores, as the New York Times puts it.

It also drastically changed the narrative of the Atlanta school system, according to The Journal-Constitution. Previously, it was considered “a vastly-improving district that took a no-nonsense approach to teachers and administrators who did not meet its high academic standards.” Later, as details of cheating parties emerged during the investigation, “dismayed parents wondered what their children really learned.”

5. Reforming juvenile justice…A new report examining the strengths and weaknesses of Cook County’s juvenile justice system makes clear that stakeholders believe education needs to play a key role in reducing youth arrests, incarceration and recidivism. Recommendations include better communication between juvenile court and schools before young people are released from custody, more restorative justice practices in schools and making it easier for young people to re-enroll in school after they have been in a youth facility. Of course, the link between harsh school discipline, youth arrests and youth incarceration are well-documented. Read more from the report here from the Mansfield Institute for Social Justice and Transformation at Roosevelt University and the Institute on Social Justice and Public Safety at Adler University.

And one more … The Kenwood Oakland Community Organization has a new partner in its push to revitalize Dyett High School: the American Federation of Teachers. AFT President Randi announced the initiative during a speech at the City Club of Chicago.

The idea is to create something similar to a public-private partnership the AFT helped launch in 2011 in the impoverished town of McDowell, W. Virginia, called Reconnecting McDowell. The partnership aims to improve educational outcomes through economic and community development projects. Last summer the group announced plans to build housing for teachers.

KOCO’s Jitu Brown says the new partnership is still in the beginning stages but getting support from the national group might help bring other potential partners to the table.  “It’s easier to tell an African-American organizing group ‘no’ than the second-largest teachers union,” he says.