Monday, December 18, 2006

The Last Civil Rights Movement - A useful definition of news is anything that occurs that is truly unexpected. That’s why readers of the February 8, 2006 edition of the Chicago Sun-Times were treated to the headline, “Morgan Park Blacks Tops in AP Test,” with the subhead of “More African Americans pass tough exams there than at any other school in the country.” The performance of Chicago Public School (CPS) students always attracts my attention, as I consider myself to be a victim of the notoriously poor CPS system of the 1970s and early 1980s. The story by the Sun-Times’ education reporter Rosalind Rossi reported that Chicago’s Morgan Park High School had the highest number of black students to pass an Advanced Placement exam in 2005 of any U.S. high school. (According to the story, Morgan Park’s student body is 93 percent African American.)

In all, 32 Morgan Park students passed AP exams in English language/composition and 26 students passed the European history exam. The article also cited specific factors that the students’ success was attributed to, such as the fact that students complete “lots of writing assignments – many of them timed, just like on the AP tests” as well as, “an emphasis on analyzing a wide variety of texts, from the classic Shakespeare and the letters of Lord Chesterfield to the more contemporary Amy Chan and Richard Rodriguez.”

This level of success on the part of African American high school students runs counter to much of what is more typically observed as it pertains to the educational performance of blacks. For instance, African-American students taking the ACT test in 2006 had an average composite score of 17.1, versus 22.0 for whites and 22.3 for Asian students. Even controlling for high school G.P.A., black students tend to perform worse on the ACT than other ethnic groups; in 2004, blacks students with G.P.A.s between 3.50 and 4.00 scored 20.3 on the ACT versus scores of 24.5 and 24.3 respectively for whites and Asians with similar G.P.A.s.

And for CPS students in particular, data from a 2005 report presented by the Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCRS) indicate that while high school graduation rates have been improving throughout the late 1990s, African American students showed less improvement in both graduation rates and dropout rates than students from other racial groups. In 1998, among male CPS students, only 38.5 percent of African Americans graduated by age 19, compared with 76.2 percent of Asians, 57.5 percent of whites and 51.2 percent of Latinos. And an April 2006 report by the CCRS suggests that of every 100 African American freshmen entering a CPS high school, only 3 will get a bachelor’s degree by the time they are 25.

Most Americans are aware of the liberal canon regarding the obstacles that black students face in terms of classroom achievement, not the least of which are, in the Left’s view, low teacher expectations, high class sizes, a disparity in per pupil spending between inner city and suburban school districts, a lack of a culturally relevant curriculum and apathy on the part of parents in black communities. The circumstances surrounding the success of these particular students both confirm and defy conventional wisdom. Based on information provided by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) in 2005, Morgan Park’s average class size was 24.2 students versus an average of 19.7 students throughout the state of Illinois. 48.8 percent of Morgan Park students were low income versus 40 percent statewide.

In Morgan Park’s favor is the fact that according to ISBE, the Morgan Park student body, which includes nearly 2,300 students in grades 7-12, had 100 percent of its eighth graders meeting or exceeding the standards for reading, and 97 percent meeting the standards for math, as measured by the Illinois Standards Achievement Test for the 2004-2005 academic year. The performance of the high school students was much more problematic. When 11th graders at Morgan Park were given the Prairie State Achievement Examination, only 61 percent of students meet or exceeded standards in reading , 47 percent met or exceeded the math standard and 43 percent met or exceeded standards in science (versus 59 percent, 53 percent and 52 percent for overall reading, math and performance respectively for the state.) Morgan Park was deemed not to be making Adequate Yearly Progress under No Child Left Behind.

More to come...

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