African Americans account for half of CPS students, but only 29 percent of those in selective high schools, down from 37 percent in 1995. And the biggest drops are in the highest performing schools—Young, Jones, Lane, Payton and Northside—where the black student population has declined by 10 percent since 2000.
For students, the middle grades are a landmine that can sabotage their chances for high school success: Performance in math and science typically levels off, attendance drops and students must master more challenging curricula. Nationally, urban school districts are beginning to understand the need to improve middle-grades education. Chicago is taking steps in the same direction. Last year the district launched a pilot program targeting middle grades learning in tandem with the related goal to improve high schools, raise graduation rates and send more students to college.
After several decades of economic decline, a new wave of immigration—spearheaded by Koreans, Mexicans and Guatemalans in the 1960s through 1990s—stabilized property values and bolstered small business activity in Albany Park. The surge gave rise to one of the nation’s most diverse neighborhoods; some 40 languages are spoken in the schools. But rising housing prices have taken a toll, forcing working-class families into Chicago’s less expensive South Side and western suburbs. The exodus has once-overcrowded schools now worrying about stable enrollment.
Roosevelt High School has spent years working to resurrect its reputation in the Albany Park community. It’s been an uphill battle. Roosevelt has revamped its curriculum, increased security, boosted its graduation rate and raised the number of graduates it sends to four-year colleges. But many residents still see Roosevelt as the school of last resort.
Roosevelt High is struggling to change its image as the school of last resort in Albany Park. Special programs and after-school activities help, say students and teachers. But Von Steuben Metro, a magnet school that sits just blocks away, and other North Side selective schools continue to siphon off some of the neighborhood’s top students.
HIGHER ED INITIATIVE The Department of Postsecondary Education, CEO Arne Duncan and a group of universities have established the Higher Education Advisory Taskforce (HEAT) to develop college admission, financial aid and student support initiatives to increase the number of CPS graduates who enroll in higher education.
Encouraging organic relationships between teachers is part of a larger initiative to build parental engagement and student leadership in Albany Park. Some also see the project, dubbed the Greater Albany Park Education Coalition, as a way for neighborhood schools to band together in the face of competition from selective high schools and new schools being created under Renaissance 2010. Without a game plan, existing neighborhood schools could lose students and, eventually, face closure.
In 2000, four schools in the country were named “Schools to Watch” by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform, a group focused on improving middle school education. Tucked away in Irving Park is one of them, Marshall Middle School. In 2005, Marshall received another “School to Watch” award, this time from the state. Here’s what separated this school from the pack.
David Kirp is an outspoken critic of policies—like those in Illinois—that promote quantity over quality in preschool education. Kirp was in Chicago recently to discuss his engaging new book “The Sandbox Investment: The Preschool Movement and Kids-First Politics” at a conference on early childhood education hosted by the Erikson Institute. He spoke with Consulting Editor Cindy Richards about why Chicago is, as he calls it, “the epicenter of the pre-k universe.”
Training is the linchpin of the district’s pilot Middle Grades Project, quietly launched last year to make school better for kids who are not quite teenagers but no longer youngsters. The majority of CPS elementary schools are K-8, and until the pilot, the special needs of adolescents in grades 6 through 8 have been too often lost in the educational mix.