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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.

Job prospects grim for young dropouts

Not only did teens and young adults without high school diplomas experience steeper declines in their employment than any other age group during the recent recession, they failed to capture any substantive share in job growth during the recovery and many were totally withdrawn from the workforce by the time they reach their late 30s.

These are the findings of a new report being released Monday by the Alternative Schools Network, exposing a grim picture of the economic prospects faced by young people in Illinois for the last 10 years. On Monday, the advocacy organization is holding a meeting with state lawmakers to discuss the findings.

One issue that Alternative Schools Network Executive Director Jack Wuest wants to discuss is why Chicago Public Schools officials haven’t moved quicker to open up new charter schools to serve dropouts who want to re-enroll in school. In 2009, when CPS won the right to expand the number of charter schools, the state legislature set aside five charters that could open up to six small campuses to re-enroll dropouts. Each of these alternative schools would serve about 160 students.

“This could take as many as 11,000 dropouts off the street,” Wuest said. But so far, only one of these schools has been given the go-ahead and the organization has only modest plans.

Wuest said that turnover in central office and questions from officials about these schools have led to the lack of progress. Despite the long-term existence of these problems, said Wuest, CPS has never made these young people a priority.

Young people of all education levels have suffered in the recession, but high-school dropouts were clearly hit the hardest, according to the data analysis done by Andrew Sum of the Northeastern University.  Chicago’s average dropout rate of 14.6 percent over the last three years outstripped the rest of the state and nation.

Young men in Chicago were almost two times more likely than females to drop out, and nearly one-fourth of black males were dropouts. Immigrant youth, especially Hispanics, were the most likely of all groups to lack a regular high school diploma.

Wuest said the discrepancies are part of a 20-year trend that has generated a cycle of low employment, low wages and single parenthood.  



Rod Estvan wrote 2 years 4 weeks ago

creating schools to graduate dropouts is not an easy bussiness

I don't think it's fair to expect Youth Connections Charter High School which focuses on students who have dropped out of school to perform academically in a manner comparable to CPS general high schools and other charter high schools. But I think that Alternative Schools Network Executive Director Jack Wuest knows pretty well why CPS hasn’t moved quicker to open up new charter schools to serve dropouts who want to re-enroll in school.
One reason is the extremely poor academic performance of the Youth Connection Charter High Schools up to now. The other reason might be what it would really cost to effectively educate students who have dropped out of high school.

Youth Connection Charter High Schools have been on the academic watch status for 9 consecutive years. Only 9.7% of these re-enrolled students are reading at or above state standards and only 4.3% are functioning at or above standards in math by the time they are juniors. In 2012 the ISBE's five year high school graduation rate for Youth Connection students was only 41.2%.

So for students who have dropped out once already what should be considered a measurement of success? Clearly, CPS doesn't think what Youth Connections has achieved so far equals success.

Youth Connections high schools are alternative schools but CPS has never answered for itself whether the underlying intent of either alternative education high schools like Youth Connection is to meet the needs of disenfranchised students, or to assist traditional public schools in behavior management by providing an escape valve for alienated students? CPS has no clear differentiated expectations established for these charter high schools. Most programs nationally that target high school dropouts have also never been formally evaluated for effectiveness so clear comparisons and expectations are difficult.

Most second-chance programs nationally once viewed the GED credential as the ultimate goal, their aim now is increasingly to help former dropouts obtain postsecondary education, which has become more and more necessary to economically survive in the United States. If the goal for CPS is to have a re-enrollment program that will allow these students to have the skills at least necessary to complete a two year technical or college then Youth Connections as it currently is functioning has to be declared a failure for most students. But there are without questions some successes. Ultimately it makes no sense to create charter high schools for students to complete their second dropout or graduate with extremely low academic skills.

Youth Connections last year had 15.5% of its enrollment composed of students with disabilities, about 570 students. Of these disabled students very few were likely to become functional readers, about 1% at Youth Connections compared to the average CPS high school where about 7% of disabled students were likely to become fully functional readers. In the 2011-2012 school year there were 196 students with IEPs at Youth Connections Charter Schools who were tested using the PSAE for reading and only two of these tested students were found to be reading at state standards. Another 131 of these disabled juniors were reading at the lowest quartile, many possibly not functional readers at all. There is probably little doubt that these disabled students dropped out the first time because they were completely academically lost and CPS' second chance alternative charter schools apparently was able to do little to remediate their problems.

Youth Connections can't be held fully responsible for students with disabilities who have not been provided an appropriate education for years and years. But if the task of this charter school is to remediate students who have dropped out and need massive help it clearly is not getting the job done. I would suspect that the resources provided to this program are insufficient even to begin to address the reading remediation needs of its non-disabled students let alone its disabled students. Every year the Alternative Schools Network reminds the public of how bad dropouts have it, and it's true. But every year Youth Connections Charter High School is declared an academic failure and so the song continues. Isn't time for CPS to figure out what its standard of success for its alternative charter schools for dropouts is because it simply can't be the same as for all other high schools?

Rod Estvan

Grandma wrote 2 years 4 weeks ago

Is Youth Connection and Prologue one in the same??

Youth Connection Charter Alternative School & Prologue Alternative School must be in some sort of Partnership. Look at this job opening that mentions both Prologue and Youth Connection Alternative High Schools.

Are they running an Alternative School Empire??? There are already so many campuses under the Youth Connection name

Now Prologue is also expanding??

Are these schools owned by the same charter operator?
If so, how did this happen?? No real track record for success, just expand, expand, expand! WHY?????????

Richard Reeder wrote 2 years 4 weeks ago

Get the Facts Right on Youth Connection Charter School

Mr. Estvan asserts incorrectly that "Youth Connection as it is currently has to be declared a failure for most students." In fact, Youth Connection Charter School achieved a 90% student performance rate on non-Prairie State Achievement Exam(PSAE) measures and a 73% rate (the benchmark is 60%) with PSAE measures included between 2008 and 2011. When PSAE measures are factored into Youth Connection's performance over that four year timeline, Youth Connection ranks in the upper 30% of CPS high schools. Given these facts, it is terribly misleading and entirely erroneous to characterize Youth Connection as a "failure" for its students, since 4 out of 5 of its incoming students were deficient by at least three grade levels in reading and math as a result of their experience in other CPS schools. Youth Connection Charter School is doing commendable work in getting these off-track students into educational tracks that will enable them to succeed as they enter post-secondary education and the job market.

Youth Connection Woes!! wrote 2 years 4 weeks ago

ISBE Website

Youth Connection Charter is in 10 year school improvement, has not made AYP and is in AWS (Academic Watch Status) on the ISBE website.

Rod Estvan wrote 2 years 4 weeks ago

Re: Richard Reeder's comment

Please examine the full quote from me: "If the goal for CPS is to have a re-enrollment program that will allow these students to have the skills at least necessary to complete a two year technical or college (program) then Youth Connections as it currently is functioning has to be declared a failure for most students."

The overall statistics are clear the majority of these students are not graduating within five years and they are not academically strong enough to be competitive even at the junior or technical college level. The question is as I posed it how should this school be evaluated given the massive deficits of its students. Just for the record I was a founding Board member of Youth Connection Charter School so I am not opposed to trying to offer students a second chance. But the overall data is what it is, the question is how should this program be evaluated.

Rod Estvan

Sheila Venson wrote 2 years 4 weeks ago

Youth Connection Charter School

Using state tests as the primary measure of success for alternative schools cannot accurately reflect true performance because the current formula does not take into account the realities for this particular student population.

YCCS serves high school dropouts who are on average, 18 years old and enroll with 6th grade reading levels. This is true for general education students as well as special education students. In 2012, 76% of students enrolling at YCCS came to the school with scores below the 25th percentile in reading.

Despite the extreme academic deficiencies of these students, and what is overlooked in the interpretation of YCCS performance data, 12,000 students have graduated, annual reading and math has seen gains of 2.5 and 2.4 respectively, and 78% of YCCS graduates continue on to post-secondary education and/or enter the workforce.

Further, YCCS met its performance standards set by the district. In fact, as Mr. Reeder wrote in his response above, in the last contract period, YCCS and its campuses had a 90% student performance rate on non-Prairie State Achievement Exam (PSAE) measures (attendance, retention, post-secondary, grade gain, credit gain); measures that are appropriate for alternative schools.

While there are numerous ways to view data that is required by the federal No Child Left Behind law, both YCCS and Chicago Public Schools agree that the current method (using an absolute state test measure) does not reflect the drop-out students’ progress toward meeting state standards and does not adequately address the performance of alternative schools.

That is why we are working with CPS to develop adequate performance measures that effectively demonstrate the progress of our students. When these new performance measures were modeled using YCCS’ historic performance, 90% of the alternative schools under YCCS were at the performing level or higher.

The reality is that YCCS is the only charter school in Chicago taking on the toughest challenge in urban education – students who have failed in or have been failed by the current education system. The sheer number of Chicago youth dropping out of school and the low performance of those re-enrolling at YCCS is a systemic issue that should be the focus of discussion.

The YCCS success story is witnessed every day in the fact that we are bringing students back to school, changing the odds, graduating students who would not have otherwise graduated, and helping create a better future not only for these students but also for our community and future workforce.

Sheila Venson
Executive Director

State Your Facts Clearly Youth Connection!! wrote 2 years 4 weeks ago

Ged Programs bring students bask to school and were here longer!

When you say 12,000 students have graduated; out of a total of how many overall?

When you say "78% of YCCS graduates continue on to post-secondary education; How many of this 78% go on to college and actually graduate; what is this percent, exclusive of the workforce portion.

When you say a portion of the 78% enter the workforce; What is this percent and is this workforce part of a job training? If so, how many are employed right now that did not enroll in college at all: that you include as part of the 78% workforce portion?

Again, what is the total number of students that have come thru your program overall, who still do not have a high school diploma?

Rod Estvan wrote 2 years 4 weeks ago

Re: new performance measurements

As I indicated the existing ISBE system is probably not approrpiate for Youth Connections. But why not present your draft performance standards that were used by Youth Connections to arrive at a 90% student performance rate. Given the statement by Sheila Venson on the components of the performance standards of attendance, retention, post-secondary, grade gain, credit gain, it is noteable that there is no reference to any high school graduation rate. Is that not part of the performance standard for a re-enrollment program? Isn't getting a high school diploma a big part of the mission of Youth Connections?

I am sure that the average age of enrollment of Youth Connection Charter School students is far older than the average CPS freshman, its less likely that they will graduate. But how much less likely? If ISBE's five year graduation rate for Youth Connections of 41.2% is at least close to correct then we are talking about 58.8% of Youth Connection students never graduating over a five year window.

If even half of these students who according to ISBE did not graduate got GEDs I would join both Sheila Venson and Richard Reeder in their assessment of success. But I am not seeing any such claim being made in the statements posted so far. Youth Connections is recieving public funds and accountability has to include the graduation rate or reciept of a GED. The question is what should be the expectation for this school's population?

According to the CPS FY 13 budget Youth Connections was projected to recieve this year $29,141,317
in tuition which according to CPS would be a slight reduction from FY12. There are also additional special education funds, and NCLB dollars too. But I have no doubt these funds are not sufficent to meet the needs of some of your students and Youth Connections must also attempt to raise other dollars. But this charter school like all others has to have some type of standard relating to graduation or GED issuance. What is it?

Rod Estvan

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