Friday, October 30, 2009

Illinois Schools 2009 - Poor Kids Still Lag

Early this morning I attended a kick off meeting of the annual Combined Charities Campaign at the US Postal Facility in Naperville, Il. I had about 2 minutes to make my pitch, so I tried to get the words "tutor mentor" and "search Internet" in my delivery. That was enough for one young woman, who wrote a $25 check on the spot. Thank you!

Then I took a look at the Chicago newspapers. The front page of the Chicago Tribune had a photo of a minority youth, with the headline "Gap in Low-Income Kids' Scores Eludes Fix. The Chicago SunTimes also used a picture of African American kids to focus attention on their "Measuring Success in Illinois Schools" story. Inside the message was "City is home to many of state's top schools, but still plagued by poor performers."

I read the reports, and you should too. What bothers me is that the writers are not including non-school, volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs, in their articles, or pointing to maps we've been providing showing the lack of such programs in many areas. Rather than a long-winded speech, I created a time line of my thinking. See it below.

Because there is so much information being generated on these issues, and because some really good ideas were published in past years, that are still relevant now, I've been looking for ways to map knowledge both from a relational aspect, and a chronological aspect.

The chart above starts at the upper left, and moves clockwise to a conclusion that I hope more people who are reading today's news will reach.

For instance, while today's papers are writing about the challenges of improving outcomes for low income kids, I attended a presentation in December 2008, titled "Is Great Teaching Enough?", where researchers talked about how the non-school hours and community resources influence learning. Dr. Michael Wooley of the University of Chicago, showed "When students report an increased number of supportive adults in their lives they have:
 Fewer behavior problems at school
 More positive attitudes toward school
 Better academic performance

This suggests that connecting kids in low-income neighborhoods with volunteer tutors/mentors in tutor/mentor programs could have a positive impact. However, as we show on the maps we create, there are too few programs for each age group, they are poorly distributed in different parts of the city, and funding is too little, and too inconsistent to help great programs grow.

Furthermore, there is a great amount of difference between the 200-plus tutoring and/or mentoring programs in Chicago. They vary in size, in number of kids served and age group served, in what they do, and the strength of their organizations. I wrote an article in 2008 to illustrate what it takes for a tutor/mentor program to become a "great" program.

This all leads to funding.

Without consistent funding from many sources, programs like Cabrini Connections cannot attract and retain quality leaders, or build the organizational history and culture needed to attract and retain students and volunteers. If you follow our success steps, you see that getting(and keeping)regular attendance is the first challenge of any non-school program because the kids are volunteers, as are the adults. Until a program builds regular participation, and keeps kids with the program, for 2-3 years, it's not likely there will be significant long term impact on aspirations, which are the motivations that drive student ownership in the learning process.

If the thousands of people who read the stories in the Tribune or SunTimes today, or read those about violence in Chicago neighborhoods in past days, will reach these same final conclusion, perhaps more will begin to think of ways they can help provide funding for volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs to operate and grow in low-income neighborhoods.

One way is to make a donation through your company or school's workplace fund raising campaign, and to choose Cabrini Connections, the Tutor/Mentor Connection, or another tutor/mentor program in your community, to receive your donation.

You can find us in the alphabetical listing at the back of most campaign books. Or you can go directly to this donations place and make a contribution.

Try mapping the stories in your own newspapers. If you're doing this and posting your maps on a web site, post your web address on this blog and share it with others.

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