CPS is re-examining how it counts and reports high school dropouts in response to a recent analysis of state data that shows more kids are leaving and the rate is growing.
The analysis, released by a grassroots community organization in West Town, found that 17.6 percent of CPS high school students dropped out in 2002. CPS reports a lower rate—14.4 percent—in figures it provided to the Illinois state report card.
The CPS rate is lower because it does not include students who drop out of 27 district-run alternative schools, including programs for teen parents and incarcerated youth, both of whom drop out of school at higher rates. Other districts also exclude such schools in calculating dropout rates because the state report card permits them to do so.
However, Bill Leavy of the Greater West Town Development Project argues that to be accurate, dropout rates should include figures from every school, including those that enroll high-risk students.
“Do you want to see the whole picture or just the part of the picture they want you to see?” he asks. “We can’t take children off the books and hide the results.”
CPS enrolls more students in alternative schools than any other district in the state. One alternative school, Nancy B. Jefferson School for youth in the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center, serves over 7,000 students a year.
Dan Bugler, chief officer of research, evaluation and accountability, estimates up to half of the detention center students are mistakenly coded as dropouts rather than as transfers to other correctional facilities outside Chicago. “We need to dig into the recordkeeping system in the jail school,” he says.
Besides recordkeeping, CPS is planning to use social service agencies to beef up dropout recovery efforts and reduce truancy.
The analysis also found that African American males enrolled in CPS high schools are more likely to drop out (25.8 percent) than any other group, a finding that goes against a national trend that show Latinos’ dropout rates are highest.
In October, another local group, the Alternative Schools Network, released a study that echoes the magnitude of the Chicago dropout problem. An analysis of data from the 2000 U.S. Census and recent population surveys found Chicago had the second-highest number (97,000) of out-of-school and jobless youth ages 16-24 in the nation. Close to half of them are high school dropouts.