23.4.06

MORE CHICAGOANS LEFT BEHIND. Friday's Chicago Tribune reports that six percent of Chicago Public Schools' current freshmen will finish any kind of college by their mid-twenties. There is a lot of attrition in the high schools. The article's focus is on Chicago graduates' troubles at university.
The study, which tracked Chicago high school students who graduated in 1998 and 1999, also found that making it to college doesn't ensure success: Of the city public school students who went to a four-year college, only about 35 percent earned a bachelor's degree within six years, compared with 64 percent nationally.
The universities are devoting resources to providing information that perhaps the high schools might have provided.

Northeastern [Illinois University] officials said the study is unfair to the university, which primarily serves non-traditional students, including many part-time students who take an average of 9 years to graduate. Many students are older, low-income and work while in school, said Provost Lawrence Frank.

But Frank said the study does point "to things we need to address," particularly improving the experience for freshmen. The university next fall will require that all freshmen take a small seminar class with a maximum of 24 students. Sophomores will receive more advising about course selection and major.

Some of this work might fall into the category of "paying for the same work twice" that is troubling the dean at Anonymous Community.

Carole Snow, an executive associate provost at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said many students start college unprepared in math and writing.

The university recently opened a math learning center where students can get tutoring and work on study skills.

The article reports on remediation and advising efforts at several Illinois universities.

I have some private information to supplement what the article was unable to report.
To be sure, there were limitations to the study. It only provided graduation rates for students who enrolled full time in a four-year college. It did not include students from alternative high schools or those eligible for special education. Researchers also did not have graduation data from every Illinois college, and DePaul University, Northern Illinois University and Robert Morris College were among those left out.
Northern Illinois University internal research has about sixty percent of Chicago graduates leaving the University "in good standing." But thirty percent of those who enroll graduate within six years. That leaves another thirty percent who leave in good standing, often for lack of money, and forty percent who don't make it.

Several other news stories shed light on the problem of Chicago's high schoolers finishing college. A story the Tribune broke on Saturday refers to an angry anonymous weblog posted by a teacher at Fenger High School.

Typing rambling screeds in an anonymous blog he called "Fast Times at Regnef High," a Fenger High School teacher unleashed his frustration over the chaos he saw around him.

He labeled his students "criminals," saying they stole from teachers, dealt drugs in the hallways, had sex in the stairwells, flaunted their pregnant bellies and tossed books out windows. He dismissed their parents as unemployed "project" dwellers who subsist on food stamps, refuse to support their "baby mommas" and bad-mouth teachers because their no-show teens are flunking.

He took swipes at his colleagues, too--"union-minimum" teachers, literacy specialists who "decorate their office door with pro-black propaganda," and security officers whose "loyalty is to the hood, not the school."

In his blog, the teacher did not identify himself or his students, the exact name of his school or the city where he taught. But like most bloggers, he wanted an audience, so he wrote in his blog that he had leaked news of his site to a few co-workers. Soon enough, the 30-year-old teacher's name was the talk of the school.

And the you-know-what hit the blades ... A teacher has resigned from Fenger, and the Tribune reports the weblog has been taken down. There is a weblog using the same title currently on Blogger, but I offer no guarantee to its persistence or its authenticity.

The animosity stirred up by the blog fueled even more chaos in this beleaguered all-black school in Roseland on the city's Far South Side, among Chicago's worst performing. But the principal said the episode has galvanized the school in a way he had not thought possible--and is encouraging staff and students to talk openly about the problems and how to fix them.

"There is a silver lining," he said. "It brought Fenger together." Johnson said he plans to hold student forums next week to discuss the blog, both the antagonism it revealed and the challenges that need to be fixed.

"He was painting a picture of desperation, and I had a problem with the generalizations he made," Johnson said. "But some of it was true, and that was the tragedy. If he had gone about it in a different way, it could have been a great forum."

Students also were outraged by the characterizations in the blog, even while acknowledging many problems the teacher detailed.

Latasha Ivy, 17, senior class vice president, found out about the blog last week and read it with her mom. They were both angry about the crude stereotypes and didn't understand why the teacher stayed if he was so miserable, she said.

"These are things that happen at Fenger--fights, drug-dealing, gangs--it happens here like it does at other high schools. I already feel bad when I tell people I go to Fenger, because they go, `Ooooh, that's a bad school.' But there are still people here trying to do something with their lives," said Ivy, who has been accepted at the University of Illinois this fall and plans to study biology.

Perhaps it is time to think about the failure of the institutions to serve Fenger's students. Once upon a time, the common schools had as one of their goals the socialization of the young into middle-class ways. It was not done perfectly, as this European Tribune essay on the dirty secrets of class biases in the U.S. reveals.
When I was in high school, I was told that I was not college material. There was no place for the son of a divorced mother working for minimum wage in the Ivory tower, or so I was told. Have you considered shop class, they can teach you the skills you'll need in the type of work that will be available to you without a college degree. Shop class wasn't for me, and it's not that you can't make a good living and love you work as a factory worker or a firefighter. The best men I know, the guys who taught me what it means to be an honest and decent man, were these things. It's that I was told that I couldn't go to college because of who I was. It kicks you down, and it most be something like what it's like being told you can't do this or that because you're just a lazy ... I think you get the idea, and I'm not going to finish that off they way it normally would be by the type of people who look down on others. What matters in life is not whether you are wealthy or white, but rather if you are a decent human being.
So the schools don't track any more. And the schools ought not view any kid a priori as a throwaway. But the schools ought not be enablers of dysfunctional and self-destructive behavior for fear of being called out as classist or elitist. Many of Ms. Ivy's classmates are done in by the local mores long before they have a chance to fill out Urbana's, or Northern Illinois's, or Loyola's application packets.

And the dysfunctional and self-destructive behavior ought not be enabled among the white and wealthy either. The Superintendent's friendly connection at University Diaries sees the effect of that enabling in the behavior of the Duke lacrosse team.

That a number of the players drive SUVs slightly less gargantuan than Hummers, for instance, is not an innocent fact. I don’t have to leave it alone for fear of being labeled a stereotyper. Some people like aggressive and intimidating cars because these cars reflect their own propensity toward violence. Liking to scare and intimidate other people and flaunt their superiority to them, these same people tend to purchase vast and expensive houses that make people who enter them feel small, overwhelmed by the thought of their owners’ financial muscle.

Is there a word for these people? Yes. It’s “Americans.” Millions of Americans are like this. They use their considerable wealth to shut out the non-wealthy world and to keep it at arm’s length when they have to be out and about in it (hence the virtually armored cars). They raise their children with a sense of their untouchable superiority to others.

All you have to do is look at the imagery and language of many of the ads for the big cars I have in mind to see that they often appeal to these people’s aggressive acquisitiveness and aggressive display.

When this sort of community lionizes particular young men among it because they are good at playing a notably aggressive sport, when it rewards its most testosterone-laden population for all sorts of aggressive behavior, on and off the field, the problem of endemic cultural violence deepens.

And when such young men engage in sexual degeneracy as a group -- after which they close ranks about it as a group -- cultural generalization is not something to avoid out of fear of the preppie card, but rather something to take up as a moral responsibility.

In particular, if that sort of bad behavior trickles down. The yobs of the Hamptons are less likely to wind up rattling beer cups in front of Union Station, or dead, than the wannabees of Roseland. The moral responsibility is for the accomplished to cultivate a proper modesty about their accomplishments. (I think that old pejorative, noveau riche, contributed to that responsibility.)

The schools, and the policymakers, might also benefit by rethinking some basic notions of their purpose. Yet another blogburst has addressed the issue of protected speech in schools, this time over a student wearing a t-shirt protesting an official school cause. Professor Althouse asks,
Did the principal disapprove of the shirt because it was disruptive or because it contradicted the school's official message?
All Things Beautiful has multiple links, most addressing the possible erosion of the First Amendment inherent in the outcome of a court case.

But isn't all this fretting over the First Amendment putting process over purpose? Betsy's Page offers the thoughts of a high-school teacher (working in much better conditions than Chicago Fenger.)
My main feeling is that I don't want judges getting into the business of second-guessing school administrators on what they think is necessary for maintaining order in their schools. Once we accept the premise that administrators should be shown deference in making such decisions, do we really want justices in Washington deciding whether certain T Shirts are acceptable and others aren't. At my school, I would like to see a very open policy that would only bar obscene shirts or ones that preached violence. But, I can imagine that certain schools might have more of a need to keep a strict hold on what could disrupt the learning environment there. I might not agree on what they choose to ban, but I'm not at their schools and wouldn't want to say that the administrators don't know their student body better than I do.
That's the effect of a generously-applied constitutional principle trumping practicality. The ruling that "political speech is protected speech" from Tinker v. Des Moines led to the abandonment of school dress codes just in time for me to garner a few "sexy legs" comments in my yearbook, as shorts were no longer proscribed on hot days. At that time Milwaukee Hamilton was as close to whitebread suburban as a city high school could be, but the suburb I have in mind is New Berlin, not Bethesda. I suspect the current administrators at Hamilton might be struggling with what the purported Fenger weblogger (the comments to this post provide a bit more context) is up against.
Or are they so worried that this may generate media attention from inconvenienced parents who have to retreive their little darling's electronics and gang-banging hoodie and hat of choice, or may attempt to hold the school liable via bogus lawsuit threats for lost or stolen items? The fact is, Regnef has no idea as to its legal procedural rights. Confiscation of contraband is one of them.And why institute a standard blue/white dress code? I mean, it's so much more fun to decipher which gang is being represented by appropriately chosen colors, teams, symbols, etc. Amazing - 83% of the school gets government paid free or reduced (about 40 cents) breakfast/lunch, but 83% of the students at Regnef can also somehow afford $100 NBA jerseys, several pairs of gym shoes ...
The principle that political speech is protected speech gets stretched to prevent any proscription of gang symbols or positional footwear races, with the added threat that anyone proposing such proscriptions is at risk of being mau-maued as racist and classist. Meanwhile many of Chicago's high schoolers never get the chance to enroll at university. Does it make any sense to stand on a favored principle when its maintenance is enabling self-destructive behaviors?

I'll give Ms. Newmark's students the last word.
I'm always intrigued to see that my students (mostly 10th graders) are split in their opinions of whether it is a good or bad thing to give the administration power to regulate their freedom of speech. When I began teaching these concepts I expected that students would unanimously feel that there should be no limitations on their speech, but a surprising number feel that the administration should have discretion in keeping order.
Quite.

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