Small ponds

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“Arnesha” thinks she’s the best. She’s smart, she’s pretty and she’s at the top of her class. She’s swimming confidently through this small pond, confident that her ecosystem is in control. The fact that real estate determined her school district, and that her school district is damn near broke, has no effect on Arnesha, or at least none that she recognizes. She does not realize that her 8th grade honors math class has been doing fifth grade math. She does not know that her English scores put her in the bottom 5% of the state. Her school’s in the bottom 2.5%, after all, and next to her classmates she looks pretty good.

Arnesha has no basis for comparison. Only during the occasional track meet does she encounter the outside world but she is not in the classrooms of the schools she visits. She does not see the advanced math on those blackboards, nor the unfamiliar words on the word walls. Arnesha is insulated from the failures of her district.

Eduhonesty: This girl will get into college, at which point the story will become one of resiliency. If she is resilient, she may make it. She has gaping holes to fill in her background knowledge, but she’s a fighter. When she plunges from the top of her class to the bottom, she will suffer a massive shock. Will she drop out of college? I hope not.

From “From High School to the Future: A First Look at Chicago Public School Graduates’ College Enrollment, College Preparation, and Graduation from Four-Year Colleges” out of the University of Chicago: April, 2006. Authors: Melissa Roderick, Jenny Nagaoka, and Elaine Allensworth; with Vanessa Coca, Macarena Correa, and Ginger Stoker

The study paints a discouraging picture of college success for CPS graduates. Despite the fact that nearly 80 percent of seniors state that they expect to graduate from a four-year college, only about 30 percent enroll in a four-year college within a year of graduating high school, and only 35 percent of those who enroll received a bachelor’s degree within six years. According to this report, CPS students’ low grades and test scores are keeping them from entering four-year colleges and more selective four-year colleges.

Other sources paint a more dismal picture. The CPS numbers include magnet school graduates, so the numbers for schools like Arnesha’s will be considerably lower than that already depressing 35% average. I would not be surprised to find that the number of four-year-college graduates from Arnesha’s school runs under 5%.

This post is for parents, parents who live in our economically-challenged zip codes. Mobility within these zip codes runs high. Arnesha’s classmates come and go regularly as rentals change and family situations change. If you are a parent struggling to find affordable housing, I’d like to strongly suggest you look up local school test scores and other school information before you commit to new housing. Your children will be much better off in a two-room apartment in an academically strong school district than in a four-bedroom house in an academic disaster zone. Zip code should not be destiny, but… woulda, shoulda, coulda. Often location makes all the difference. Most kids end up somewhere in the middle of the class. You want to find a class for your boy or girl that is at least at grade level according to test scores, and preferably higher.