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The race for City Hall

Jobs and schools promise to be top issues in next year’s city elections. The mayor’s education agenda faces its toughest test in the African-American communities that gave him strong support in 2011.

Jones and Urban Prep shine as citywide college enrollment rises

Nearly 60 percent of 2011 CPS graduates enrolled in college, but some question this current administration's plans for post-secondary education.

Jones College Prep, a selective enrollment high school ranked No. 1, and Urban Prep, a charter high school for African-American boys, ranked No. 2 in the percentage of 2011 graduates enrolling in college.

In previous years, Urban Prep has claimed 100 percent of its grads were admitted to college, only to see official figures for college enrollment from the National Student Clearinghouse come in much lower – 76 percent for 2010. This year is different, with Clearinghouse data yielding 91 percent.

Urban Prep Founder Tim King says he believes the Clearinghouse has undercounted the charter school’s college enrollment. Still, he’s proud.  “It is incredibly high given the population we serve,” says King. “Traditionally low-income black males have the lowest college-going rates.”

Overall, nearly 60 percent of 2011 CPS graduates enrolled in college last fall, up from 56 percent in 2010, according to Clearinghouse data CPS quietly posted on its post-secondary website. Black and Latino males continue to trail other groups, but both saw increases of 5 percentage points.

“It is really good news,” says Eliza Moeller, a lead researcher for the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research. She says the college enrollment rate has been flat for a while, going up only 1 or 2 percentage points each year. “It is exciting to see progress.”

CPS’ college enrollment rate is nearing that of the national average, which in 2008 was 63 percent, according to Tom Mortenson, senior scholar at The Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education in Washington and an independent higher-education policy analyst living in Oskaloosa, Iowa.

College enrollment rates have been stagnant across the nation, except for low-income students, who have increasingly enrolled in college, he says. Mortenson previously worked for the Illinois State Scholarship Commission and says the improvement in Chicago is remarkable.

“To see Chicago go from a hopeless situation to a place where there is progress being made is one of the miracles of my lifetime,” he says.

However, only about 58 percent of CPS students graduate, compared to the national graduation rate of 75 percent, according to CPS data and figures from the Alliance for Excellent Education. (The graduation rate also has improved over the past decade.)

How different groups fared

At 55 percent, neighborhood high schools continued to post the lowest college-enrollment rates among all types of schools, but they saw the biggest jump -- about 3.4 percent.

The city’s five turnaround high schools—Orr, Marshall, Harper, Fenger and Phillips—saw a slight decrease and  continued to have some of the lowest rates in the district, from an average of 43 percent to 42 percent. In 2008 and 2009, these high schools had their entire staffs revamped and received substantial district and federal investments.

Urban Prep’s increase in college enrollment drove a 1 percentage point jump for charter schools as a whole.

Perspectives-Calumet, Noble Street’s main campus, and ACE Charter School in Garfield Park saw sizeable increases of more than 10 percent. The two high schools run by Aspira were the only charters that enrolled just half of their graduates.

For the most part, the data are a testament to the Arne Duncan administration. The current CPS leadership was just coming into office when the Class of 2011 was graduating and packing their bags for college.

Duncan’s team, led by Greg Darnieder, sought, for the first time, to find out how many CPS grads enrolled in college. When the numbers first came in, in 2004, they were shocked: Only 43 percent of grads had made that transition to higher education. 

They responded with a number of initiatives. For example: Holding principals accountable for getting each student to fill out financial aid forms and apply to colleges, and giving high schools college coaches to help students choose and follow through. With up to 350 students each, regular counselors had little time for this.

They have taken these initiatives to Washington D.C. and currently have a pilot program in several states to track financial aid completion rates. Experts say providing schools data that showed which students had completed financial aid forms is key.

“This undoubtedly changed the conversation for us,” says Kim Cook, executive director of the National College Access Network.

Also, she says her agency and several not-for-profit agencies have taken up the work of college coaches and are partnering with schools to provide extra support for college counselors.

Future efforts uncertain

On Tuesday, CPS officials announced that CPS 2012 graduates were awarded nearly $276 million in scholarships, up from $147 million in 2011.

CPS officials attributed the increase to monthly bulletins alerting students to opportunities and informational meetings. Next year, officials plan to hold a “strategic scholarship training day” for student leaders.”

Liz Monge-Pacheco, the post-secondary coach for the Network for College Success, says that this year, the district has been good about trying to pull together the data on scholarships. However, she points out that students might be awarded multiple scholarships at different schools and will often not be able to use all that is given to them.

Monge-Pacheco works closely with the post-secondary teams in six schools and she says that the environment has gotten harder for students to find money for college. One of the biggest challenges came this year when the Pell Grant adjusted its income requirements, making it harder for students to qualify for the full award.

“That made a difference for some of our students from choosing a four-year university vs. a two year,” she says.

Further, it is unclear what the current CPS administration plans to do to keep the college enrollment numbers rising. The centralized post-secondary office, which included specialists who worked with school teams, has now been whittled down to just a few people. Some network offices have post-secondary specialists, but still Monge-Pacheco says people are wondering who will help organize college tours and help individual schools navigate the process.

“There is a loss of resources this year,” she says. “CPS has put forth no plan on how they will support post-secondary enrollment.”

As part of its effort to close a huge budget gap, the district office told schools that if they want to keep their college coach, they will have to cover the cost completely with discretionary funds. Previously, central office chipped in.

Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley balked at the expense, saying he doesn’t understand why CPS would pay for coaches who aren’t certified counselors. The coaches were in addition to counselors, who often are responsible for a host of tasks including organizing graduation, assessments and crisis intervention.

Some principals have chosen to keep their college coach. Dunbar High School on the Near South Side saw their college enroll rate rise from about 50 percent to nearly 68 percent—the biggest increase among neighborhood high schools.

James Gorham is the director of Dunbar’s post-secondary department, a unit created when Camilla Covington started as principal two years ago. Gorham says he was hired as a college coach. While he does not have a counseling degree, he does hold a bachelor’s degree in psychology and has experience working with teens. Last year, CPS covered half his salary.

Gorham says he requires seniors to submit six college applications: two to schools that they could easily get into; two that have their major and that, given ACT and GPA scores, they could probably get into; and two “reach” schools. He also has seniors fill out at least three scholarship applications and the federal financial aid form.

Gorham and his team also follow up with students over the summer, making sure that they actually enroll in college and get themselves there. When Darnieder began collecting college enrollment information, one revelation was that there was a big disconnect in the number of students who said they were going to college and the number who enrolled.

Gorham says he finds that over the summer, many young people start to worry about going away.

“I try to get them to push through their fears,” he says. “We talk to them about the benefits of education and that this is the time to be selfish.”

Other concerns

The cutback in college coach funding is not the only development that concerns educators and organizations working on postsecondary issues. 

Sarah Duncan, who works with several schools as part of the University of Chicago’s Network for College Success, points out that the new school performance policy doesn’t include any reference to college enrollment. Instead, there’s a heavy focus on test scores. 

Recent studies have shown that high school grade-point averages and picking the right college, not test scores, are the most important factors for college success.

Meanwhile, Urban Prep still draws criticism -- for student turnover. In September 2007, some 178 freshmen started at Urban Prep, yet only 92 of them graduated in June 2011, according to CPS data. Among charter schools that are not alternative schools, Urban Prep has the highest five-year dropout rate, 35 percent, but that figure is still way better than the district’s dropout rate for black male students of 51 percent. Students that start at Urban Prep and transfer to another school where they graduate are not considered dropouts.

King acknowledges that Urban Prep is not the right environment for some students. Like many charter schools, Urban Prep has a strict discipline code.

“We are a charter school,” King says. “Students can choose to be here and they can choose not to be here. We won’t be for everyone … but we don’t abandon students. We give them second, third, fourth, 100th chances.”

Editor's note: School-by-school information is contained in the attached Excel sheet.

High school type
Average college enrollment Change from 2010
CHARTER 68% 1%
83% 1%
MILITARY 55% -6%

college_enrollment_for_web.xls47.5 KB


Anonymous wrote 2 years 20 weeks ago

Cawley should ask

"Chief Administrator Tim Cawley balked at the expense, saying he doesn’t understand why CPS would pay for coaches who aren’t certified counselors. The coaches were in addition to counselors, who often are responsible for a host of tasks including organizing graduation, assessments and crisis intervention."

Cawley should ask his kid's school how they're providing her with college prep. Maybe he'd get some ideas.

xian wrote 2 years 20 weeks ago

Not sure about the conclusions

Why is it that educators are always blamed for the district's failures and its successes are assigned elsewhere?

From the facts in the article, it would appear that CPS' major initiatives have failed--turnarounds, charters, IDS, and other costly initiatives have cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and comparatively resulted in less college attendance.

Just during the high school career of these CPS graduates, we have seen 4 CEOs and countless revolving initiatives, and yet we see this increase centered on the schools that CPS has vilified and attacked the most.

Isn't it more than possible that educators, students and the rank-and-file central office staff working on long-term college going initiatives have improved things in spite of leadership and the "new school" fad?

By the way, it also is worth noticing that the increase coincides with the emergence of CORE strongly in the high schools.

Don wrote 2 years 20 weeks ago

Orr, Marshall, etc.

So how do we give these school more love? Or more specifically, how do we make the people in these institutions feel appreciated?
I have a hard time believing that CTU teachers don't understand that the students at Urban Prep do much more work than even the honor students at their school. Why is it so hard to give them that recognition? If this trend continues, Xian's going to be a bitter old man before he reaches middle age.
If the plan is for more speciality schools, the numbers at the "old" low income schools should look progressively worse. How will that be managed to not look like a failure?

Rod Estvan wrote 2 years 19 weeks ago

re: interesting statement

I noted this statement: "Recent studies have shown that high school grade-point averages and picking the right college, not test scores, are the most important factors for college success." I am unclear what studies are being referenced.

In 2001 the owner of the SAT test published a paper titled "Predicting Success in College: SAT® Studies of
Classes Graduating Since 1980." Now it is clear SAT has a self interest in supporting its own validity as a predictive tool. But none the less this study claimed based on a truly massive data base that "SAT scores and high school records (cumulative GPAs) predict academic performance, nonacademic accomplishments,leadership in college, and postcollege income." The study aruges the combination of these two factors are the best predictors of outcomes.

I am totally unclear about what "the right college" means, are we discussing academic rigor or being supportive of lower income minority students? Or are we talking about both factors? I have never seen or heard of a study that indicated that students with high GPAs, but had lower ACT or SAT scores are on average likely to do well in college. In fact when these students are administered the COMPASS (Computerized Adaptive Placement Assessment and Support
Systems) test for college placement they are more often than not forced to take remedial non-college credit classes. In 2001, colleges required nearly one third
of first-year students to take a remedial course in reading, writing, or mathematics (National Center
for Education Statistics (NCES) 2003).

I have not seen a study indicating high GPAs trump lower college admissions tests. If such studies are out there I would like to see them. I am not cheering for a standardized testing only admissions process to college, nor am I suggesting that college students who require remedial course work should not be admitted to college. But even if students are admitted with lower standardized test scores they may still face the COMPASS and have to pay a lot of money for remedial course work if they fail to perform on that test. My experience is that many students in non-competitive colleges and community colleges who are required to take remedial classes do not graduate from college and can be stuck with significant student debt. I do know of some students who survived including students with learning disabilities, but they are the minority of these students requiring college remediation.

Rod Estvan

xian wrote 2 years 19 weeks ago

Again with the personal nastiness

You would start by not firing their entire staffs, and then firing them again once over within the first couple years of turnaround.

The Urban Prep comment is a weird tangent. The implication that honor students do the most work suggests you know very little about neighborhood schools and are relying almost exclusively on personal stereotypes.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 19 weeks ago

Change in culture

I believe that the numbers above are proof that cps staff in high schools have gained the knowledge and skills needed to create systems and procedures to help students get through the financial aid and application process. So, I might argue that college coaches are an expense cps can no longer afford. High schools thnk and act differently, and many teacher do help students with this process.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 19 weeks ago

I am a parent of a Jones high

I am a parent of a Jones high school student. I sent my son to Jones hoping for him to receive a good education. While I am happy that he is happy there and the small size of the school makes for a unique high school experience, I am very disappointed in the education that he has received. The amount of test prep and in his junior year, push for college acceptance, is staggering. Many teachers did only test prep in the months approaching the ACT tests. It seemed as if the only focus of the school became to get a good score on a standardized test. When I asked about some of the policies about testing, I was curtly informed that this is what the parents and students want.

Don wrote 2 years 19 weeks ago

Honor Students

Perhaps you need to observe more class types in your own school.
Honor students collectively do the most work. If the claim is that Urban Prep and Noble are not outperforming your school, but primarily just aggregating student with high growth potential, then we should be able to find those students in your school. If your suggesting your schools remedial track is achieving six or seven years growth then fine, let's look there.
I'm only interested in finding and promoting effective organizations. I'm not interested in contests of "who's the best teacher". A fat man on a bicycle will beat an olympic athlete on foot in a five mile race.
I have no idea what you mean by "not firing the entire staff". I support CPS in making changes that have a beneficial impact on students, including closing schools and laying off teachers. But I agree with the CTU that this has been done in the past without good evidence that the replacement would be successful.

xian wrote 2 years 19 weeks ago

Second chance students who

Second chance students who come from 1-2 full years behind do far more work than any type of student; often while continuing to be stereotyped as "lazy" or "low performing".

As we laugh together sometimes, the students who think they hate school the most often end up spending the most time at school during their junior and senior years.

Donnn wrote 2 years 19 weeks ago

Urban Prep Dirty Tricks

Urban Prep kicks out a large percentage of their students. Last year my school received over 10 of Urban Prep's castaways including two seniors who were cut loose second semester. It is easy to have a high percentage of students entering college if you kick out those who will not be enrolling.

Other dirty tricks employed by charters include:

Students earning credit for weird 9th period study hall classes called things like "The Motivated Learner" or "Scholar's Corner" that they then use as science or math or English or whatever credit the student is missing.

Changing 1st semester failing grades if the student passes 2nd semester.

Pestering students and parents of underachieving students until they leave the school. "Urban Prep just isn't the right fit for Little Johnny."

Marc Sims wrote 2 years 19 weeks ago

citywide college enrollment rises

Better parents, better students, better schools!
Better teachers, better students, better schools!

Anonymous wrote 2 years 18 weeks ago

The coach program seem to work

The CPS college coach program appears to be a positive investment for getting more young people into college. Shouldn’t schools be looking a multiple strategies as a way to increase college access for disadvantage students? What does it cost compared to CPS security, charter investments, or other high cost programs that yield limited achievements?

It seems a bit irrational to think that school counselors can meet the huge social and academic demands of students and push high college enrollment, especially with high student-to-counselor ratios.

Once again, it appears that CPS tosses out the baby with the bath water – as typical with incoming administration. What about what’s good for kids! This is what happens when you allow a “financial hack” to make decisions about kid’s future.

Linda Lenz wrote 2 years 18 weeks ago

Response to Rod

The Consortium's June 2012 report, Teaching Adolescents to Become Learners, summarizes the research on GPAs and test scores. An excerpt from the first page of the first chapter: "Students’ course grades, grade point average (GPA), or class rank are vastly better predictors of high school and college performance and graduation, as well as a host of longer-term life outcomes, than their standardized test scores or the coursework students take in school". (GPAs reflect not only intellectual attainment but also perseverance, grit and other qualities needed for learning.) .... In earlier work, Melissa Roderick of the Consortium wrote about the importance of college selection or "match."

Don wrote 2 years 18 weeks ago

Teaching Adolescents to Become Learners

How much real college prep can really be done in schools where social promotion is a realistic necessity and low minimum behavior standards are tolerated to keep the more fragile students in school?

Sixty percent of 2011 CPS graduates may have registered for college, but I wonder what percentage of CPS students are actually completing any post secondary degree. Anecdotally, I was told by a degreed teaching assistant who was doing certification at Chicago State that he felt the only people actually completing his program were white.

In the old days, a good student in a low income CPS school could go to city colleges and become a teacher. Is the apparent decline of opportunities in CPS for low income educated minorities a microcosm of the larger employment world?

While college enrollment may be up, I fear that CPS "college prep", as it relates to competitiveness in the majority world, is actually in decline.

Marc Sims wrote 2 years 18 weeks ago

As Good As It Gets?

To Linda Lenz

or anyone else.

Is a public school only as good as the students they get?

TMS wrote 1 year 44 weeks ago

Urban Prep

In the year 2010, 2011, and 2012, 100% of the seniors in the school's first three graduating classes were admitted to four-year colleges or universities.
But on average, only 300-500 students attend the school.
And (shown by the graduation in 2011 was only 61% and in 2012 it was only 65.3%.

TMS wrote 1 year 44 weeks ago


Urban Prep's ACT score is only a 16.5 compared to the CPS ACT score of 17.7

TMS wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

I heard that the whole school

I heard that the whole school shows favoritism towards students.
Would you want to be at a school like that?
I would not want to.

TMS wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago


Urban Prep has a terrible education.
The students do not take honors programs during their freshman year. Because the students do not usually do the best on their tests and they want everyone to learn the same thing. That hurts the other thought-provoking students who are very well educated.
The school should not be called aqn academy if it does not have a higher learning system.

TMS wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago


Marquis Harrison was an honors student at Urban Prep Charter Academy in East Garfield Park, where he had a 3.79 grade-point average his freshman year. Last fall, he quarterbacked his football team to an undefeated conference record and earned rookie of the year honors.

But then, they saw another side of him.

Harrison was high on Ecstasy, marijuana and vodka when he stole a vehicle in the Old Town neighborhood and led police on a chase that ended when he crashed into a car and killed Marciea Adkins, 42, a Chicago police dispatcher on her way home from work. He was charged as an adult with first-degree murder and burglary and was ordered held Monday on $1 million bond.

Urban Prep Academies was supposed to keep children out of prison. What happened, Tim King?

(we choose to live honestly,non-violently, and honorably)-don't we?

TMS wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

Jones college prep is in

Jones college prep is in excellent standing.

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