Monday, November 14, 2011

Achievement gap: Black Students Still Behind

Today's Chicago Tribune includes a feature article titled: CPS fails to close performance gap: Black students still losing academic ground despite reforms, study finds

It leads off saying:

Twenty years of reform efforts and programs targeting low-income families in Chicago Public Schools has only widened the performance gap between white and African-American students, a troubling trend at odds with what has occurred nationally.

Across the city, and spanning three eras of CPS leadership, black elementary school students have lost ground to their white, Latino and Asian classmates in testing proficiency in math and reading, according to a recent analysis by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research.

It includes a statement saying:

"If school closings destabilized certain neighborhoods, other efforts were ineffective — millions of dollars pumped into countless after-school initiatives and tutoring and mentoring programs geared toward African-American students, only to see math and reading scores languish and many students fall further behind."

I challenge this statement of "countless after-school initiatives and tutoring and mentoring programs".

I've been hosting a database of non-school volunteer-based tutoring and/or mentoring program serving Chicago and have been using maps to show where these programs are needed, where existing programs are located, and where more dollars are needed to help programs constantly innovate ways to have a greater impact.

I tried to find census maps on the internet today to support this article. Here's one set of maps showing demographic concentrations in the Chicago region. This is from a U.S. Census Grids web site.

Here's a maps showing African American population concentrations in Chicago, created by the Tutor/Mentor Connection in the mid 2000s. On this map we've overlaid locations of poorly performing schools from the 2007 ISBE watch list. From both sets of maps you can see high concentrations of African Americans living in high poverty areas. You can also see a huge number of failing schools.

On this next map you can see locations of different non-school tutor/mentor programs in the Chicago area. You just don't see a large number of programs in many parts of this map. I encourage you to use the Interactive Program Locator and create your own map. Sort by type of program and age group served.
When trying to understand this information you need to think in layers. What is the distribution of tutor/mentor programs serving elementary school kids? Middle school? High school? In each neighborhood programs serving all three groups need to be equally available?

If "millions of dollars had been spent on countless non-school tutor/mentor programs" targeted at African American youth, the map should show many more programs in these neighborhoods than we show.

There may be more. This mapping project has never received funding from the city, the schools or major philanthropy. Thus, there may be programs we don't know about and some of our information is out-of-date. Furthermore, there needs to be many more questions asked, to know more about what these programs have in common, how they differ, what they need to find and retain quality staff and financial support, ways they can constantly improve.

The Tribune story offers a generalization that makes one think that millions of dollars were spent on a comprehensive tutoring/mentoring strategy. Millions may have been spent, but there is no evidence that any strategy has been used to assure that Chicago has a broad distribution of well-organized and constantly improving non-school tutor/mentor programs in high poverty neighborhoods.

This could change if the Mayor, a foundation or an investor were to become a partner and provide financial support to the Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC so we can update the maps and launch an aggressive advertising campaign to help existing programs get the funding and talent they need to operate in more places and to constantly improve their impact over the next 10-20 years.

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