Take 5: Persistent racial disparities, good news on grad rates, Hyman leaving, nonprofit colleges

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After six tumultuous years at the helm of City Colleges of Chicago, Chancellor Cheryl Hyman announced this week she will be resigning in a year.

After six tumultuous years at the helm of City Colleges of Chicago, Chancellor Cheryl Hyman announced this week she will be resigning in a year.

New data released this week by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights show that black and Latino students continue to face higher rates of suspension, a lack of access to advanced courses and a higher likelihood of having an inexperienced teacher, Education Week reports.

Secretary of Education John King said the data, which were collected for nearly all schools in the country during the 2013-14 school year, “illustrate in powerful and troubling ways disparities in opportunities and experiences that different groups of students have in our schools.”

For the first time, the federal government collected data on chronic absenteeism and found that 13 percent of all students, more than 6.5 million, missed 15 days or more of school that year. The Associated Press reports that American Indian and Native Hawaiian students were most likely to be chronically absent, while Hispanic and white students were close to the national average.

In Chicago Public Schools, some 53,500 students were chronically absent, or about 13.5 percent, just over the national average. Black students had the highest rates of chronic absenteeism in CPS at 20.7 percent, higher than the national average for that group, while white and Hispanic students were chronically absent at rates of 5.9 percent and 9.6 percent—much lower than the national average for those groups.

Data on police presence in schools was also a new addition. Nationally, 24 percent of elementary schools have sworn law enforcement officers, while about 42 percent of high schools do. In CPS, the data show 83 schools and five charter school networks have police presence in schools—all of which served high school students, except for Kwame Nkrumah Academy, a K-8 charter school in Roseland. CPS put the small, struggling school on academic probation earlier this school year.

Budget battle continues. Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration is pushing a budget proposal that would allow schools to open on time this fall, increase early childhood education spending and “hold harmless” any district that would have lost funding over the last year due to lower enrollment, fewer poor students or higher property values. CPS was slated to lose $74 million in this way.

The state’s Secretary of Education Beth Purvis described it to reporters as a “bridge year proposal” for the 2016-17 school year while the administration would “commit to a new formula” for the following year. The proposal is at odds with those put forward by House and Senate Democrats, who’ve wanted to provide more funding for CPS and its teachers pension fund, or overhaul the state’s school funding formula.

Rauner continued to alienate Chicago officials this week when he likened many Chicago schools to “crumbling prisons,” which sparked the hashtag #NotAPrison on Twitter, where teachers and parents shared school photos in protest. Meanwhile, educators at two schools the governor has visited told the Sun-Times they felt hurt and offended by the comments.

Neighborhood high schools. With so much bad budget news coming out of CPS these days, two new reports on high school graduation and college degree attainment offered a refreshingly positive break. The University of Chicago Consortium on School Research released a report—which the Sun-Times got a leaked copy of first—that found that recent improvements in the city’s graduation rates are due largely to neighborhood high schools. Charter schools have historically outperformed neighborhood schools on this metric, but the data now show that neighborhood schools are catching up, driving the overall increase.

According to the Consortium’s calculations, the district’s graduation rates have increased by 22 percentage points over the last 16 years, from 52.4 percent in 1998 to 74.8 percent in 2014.

The Consortium released a separate report today to update its “bachelor’s degree attainment index,” which combines high school graduation, college enrollment and college completion rates to predict future high school students’ likelihood of obtaining a bachelor’s degree. Using the most recent data available, researchers now estimate that 18 percent of CPS freshman will obtain a bachelor’s degree within a decade—up one percentage point from last year’s prediction.

Chancellor leaving City Colleges. After launching a plan back in 2011 to “reinvent” the City Colleges of Chicago, Chancellor Cheryl Hyman has announced she’ll be leaving the community college system in one year, giving the board of trustees time to conduct a national search for her replacement. Hyman earned a vote of “no confidence” from full-time faculty recently over her policies that led to a tuition hike for part-time students and the consolidation of several programs that educators fear will limit course access for students of color commuting from the South and West sides.

Hyman denied any tensions with City Colleges board members, saying they asked her to stay on after her current three-year contract expires at the end of the month.

“I am now almost halfway through this five-year plan and I’m almost exceeding every goal in this plan… That’s a perfect time for new leadership to come in,” she told the Sun-Times. “It also allows me to be more involved in a national focus.” In a statement announcing her departure, Hyman noted that parts of her reinvention strategy were “already serving as a reform model for community colleges across the country.”

Members of the full-time faculty union plan to protest her contract renewal before a special board meeting on Friday.

The news came just one day after the city announced it would be investing $75 million to build a manufacturing center at Daley College on the Southwest Side. As part of Hyman’s reinvention plan, Daley is becoming a hub for advanced manufacturing courses.

Private, nonprofit colleges. A Washington think tank analyzed data on more than 1,000 private nonprofit colleges and found “a stunning level of institutional failure in fulfilling this mobility promise to students.” Just 55 percent of students graduate within six years, according to the report from the nonpartisan Third Way. A New York Times story on the report points out that the graduation rate at public universities is even lower—46 percent—but acknowledges that public institutions tend to have less strict admissions policies.

The report also found poor wage outcomes for students at private nonprofits: “At the average four-year non-profit, just 63% of students who entered with federal loans earned yearly salaries and wages that exceeded $25,000 (more than the average high school graduate) six years later.” But many of the poorest-performing schools are also those that educate more low-income students, as measured by the portion of federal Pell recipients at the institutions.

Third Way offers a few suggestions for federal education officials, including requiring private nonprofits to have some “skin in the game when large numbers of students fail to graduate, gain employment, or pay back loans.” The organization suggests requiring schools to pay back some of the federal loans their students can’t repay to “encourage colleges to care more deeply about student outcomes.”

On a related note, the Atlantic has an in-depth story on how companies that design, run and market virtual learning programs for nonprofit colleges and universities are making a big profit. “Those for-profit companies, by taking 50 percent of student tuition, can make as much as $30,000 per student per awarded degree,” according to the story.

A few last notes. The Tribune has a story on how nearly 40 percent of Illinois schools aren’t meeting state requirements on physical education, “often saying they don’t have the staff or facilities to offer the courses daily, as a decades-old state law requires, and no one is sanctioning them anyway.” It’s hard to say how many schools in Chicago are providing fewer than the required five days of gym per week because CPS is not reporting that data to the state in that way. CPS reports out weekly minutes, not days per week.

And CPS released more results from its ongoing lead testing. An additional 11 schools were found to have lead levels above federal EPA standards, bringing the count to 12.

  • Norman Boyer

    Please, instead of taking your information about private nonprofit colleges from a Washington Think Tank, come take a look at Saint Xavier University, where I teach and where we have a wonderful diverse and successful student body.

  • Norman Boyer

    I should add that one of those graduates is Kimbriell Kelly, former editor and publisher of The Chicago Reporter. and now an investigative reporter with the Washington Post I am proud that she was one of my students.