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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Catalyst Article on King Misses the Big College Prep Story

The latest edition of Chicago Catalyst is out. The cover story “Great Expectations for King Prep Come Up Short” chronicles the debacle on 44th Street. Although, the thesis statement of the article is “King’s story illustrates the difficulty in creating elite high schools, a key strategy in Mayor Richard M. Daley’s efforts to attract and keep middle-class families in the public schools system”, one finds little actual discussion of SES in the article. Instead, one gets the sad story of a school that has lacked visionary leadership and support. The author, Debra Williams, gets it wrong because she writes the wrong story.

For those who don’t know, King was opened in compliance with a federal desegregation decree back in 1998. The decree required that all students have equal access to magnet schools. A cynic might argue that King is a magnet school in name only.

Williams outlines the problems that have plagued King since 1998: inconsistent leadership, lack of vision, high teacher turnover, low-test scores for juniors, and the lowest test scores for incoming freshman of any magnet school in Chicago, very little central office support, and low enrollment in Advanced Placement courses. Suddenly it appears that oversight and accountability are dirty words down on 125. Of course the question to ask is “Why was King allowed to fail?” Unfortunately Williams never asks this question.

However Williams does get David Pickens, the Deputy to CEO Arne Duncan on the record when it comes to college prep high schools and King College Prep “Our goal is to have very little difference from one [school] to another. We are looking at it.”

One has to wonder if CPS is looking at King in the same way one looks at a train wreck—with morbid curiosity—or if they are vacantly staring into the abyss of an ethically bankrupt system where good faith promises to children are broken. Either way what happened at King is wrong. In fact what’s happening to college prep programs across the city calls for increased, third party oversight.

Most folk in Chicago, when asked to name college prep high schools in Chicago can probably name two: Northside and Payton. If we looked at just those schools we would see very little difference between the schools. Unfortunately there are seven high schools in Chicago designated as college preps, and their differences are abundant.

Lets begin by looking at Chicago college prep high schools that failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). Catalyst claims that King is the only college prep that didn’t make AYP. This is a false claim; a cursory examination of school report cards adds Hope College Prep and Lindblom College Prep to the list. In fact, Hope and Lindblom actually had worse test scores than King in 2005. I wonder if David Pickens is “looking” at that too.

I did a little research to determine the extent to which college prep’s attract the middle class. Working from school report card data I looked at the percentage of low-income students in the area surrounding the college prep and subtracted that by the percentage of low-income students within the college prep itself. I call this number the income difference. The higher the income difference, the greater the percentage of middle class students that attend the college prep versus the local area. A negative number indicates that the college prep attracts more lower income studnets than schools in the surrounding area. This provides information in terms of how well college preps attract the middle class. Here is what I found:

Payton College Prep 48.0
Northside College Prep 45.4
King College Prep 32.9
Jones College Prep 19.2
Brooks College Prep 11.8
Lindblom College Prep -2.2
Hope College Prep -5.9

As we can see from the data, Payton, Northside, and King attract a significant amount of middle class students to their schools when compared with their local area. Interestingly Lindblom and Hope have more low-income students than their local area. Can we say that Lindblom and Hope repel the middle class? Or does this fact speak to where college preps are located in a geo-economic sense in Chicago?

Anyway, if we rank these schools according to academic achievement in reading we get this:

Northside College Prep 99 percent meets/exceeds
Payton College Prep 95 percent meets/exceeds
Jones College Prep 87 percent meets/exceeds
Brooks College Prep 84 percent meets/exceeds
King College Prep 68 percent meets/exceeds
Lindblom College Prep 57 percent meets/exceeds
Hope College Prep 45 percent meets/exceeds

Perhaps Williams could have used this data to better inform her thesis concerning the creation of elite high schools and their ability to attract the middle class. Then again, if she used this data then perhaps she would have written an entirely different article. Perhaps an article that compared the creations of Payton, Northside, King and Hope would have been written. Such an article could include differences in budget allocation, hiring practices, core facilities, and administrative vision. In terms of the article we get in Catalyst, well sometimes the words we don’t write say more than the words we do.

Comments on "Catalyst Article on King Misses the Big College Prep Story"


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (1:03 PM) : 

Aren't you forgetting to include Whitney Young? Just because the name dosen't include "College Prep" doesn't mean it isn't one...


Blogger Papa said ... (1:10 PM) : 

Thanks for the comment. My rationale for excluding Whitney Young was simply that they had been around since 1975 and did not figure into the latest wave of college preps that started with Northside. In essence, they were outside the scope of my piece.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (12:19 PM) : 

And the Catalyst story chose to focus on the negative at King and not the positive, including over 80% of the seniors are accepted to colleges, including Stanford, Harvard and Northwestern. The writer never spoke to King staff and only took the word of one mother and her daughter, who have consistently said negative things about King since the beginning.


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