High School Drop Outs in Chicago

by John Whitfield Saturday, Dec. 29, 2001 at 7:23 PM
JWhitfi894@aol.com 773-890-4805 3641 S. Wolcott Ave., Chgo., Illinois 60609

Upon careful examination of the drop out epidemic, one can find that Native Americans, African Ameriucans, and Spanish speaking Americans, among other minorities, have the highest drop out rates. With Chicago leading the nation in the number of murders is it back peddling to the days of Al Capone, after Michael Jordon did much to change that image?


High School Dropouts in Chicago

The dropout epidemic is a national problem, with more than a million students dropping out, even in the 1960s, and Chicago is just one of many large urban centers in having to confront this immense social problem.
Unfortunately, the high school drop out has not been able to learn what he is good at, much less have those that work with him, be it, poor attendance or cutting classes.
The drop out has been a continual problem, because among other reasons, the range, and number of jobs regarding little formal education has drastically diminished,(Schreiber,1967).
The great steel mills that extended from South chicago to Gary, Indianna, where one could quit a job in the morning, and start another in the afternoon, have all but packed up and left. The slaughterhouses and meat packing places described in Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" from a century ago, describing life in The Back of the Yards neighborhood of Chicago, from a century ago, have all but disappeared. Chicago as "Hog Butcher to the World" as Carl Sandburg put it in his poem "Chicago", and the "City of Big Shoulders", now must come from weight lifting, as the"pull yourself up by the bootstraps" notion, if you just work hard, has faded into oblivion. We now have the incredible shrinking middle class, and the gradual increase in disparity between the haves, and the have nots. In more recent years the 50% drop out rate, among other just as serious issues, led to the Chicago School Reform Act, enacted by the Illinois Legislature in 1989.

For Hispanics in the 1980s there was an increasing number of dropouts and declining college access. Hispanics are still not obtaining full access to educational opportunity, and appear to be moving backwards in the field of higher education in Illinois, as in other states that have large numbers of Hispanics, with the exception of Florida.
Unfortunately, the reporting of dropout statistics is no longer required by law.
Constance Clayton in Children of Value: We Can Educate All Our Children quotes Michell Fine, on the much-discussed subject of dropouts while discussing masking:
What would happen, in our present day economy, to these young men and women if they all graduated? Would their employment and / or poverty prospects improve individually as well as collectively? Would the class, race, and gender differentials be eliminated or even reduced? Or does the absence of a high school diploma only obscure what would otherwise be the obvious conditions of structural unemployment, underemployment, and marginal employment disproportionately endured by minorities, women, and low income individuals?(Ayers, 1996).
The Chicago Board of Education and Carson, Pirie, Scott and Company once had a Double EE Program.(Education and Employment) that started in 1961, by Carsons in conjunction with the citys public schools, and was an example of what could be done when the drop out problem is considered a communal responsibility. Carsons agreed to provide jobs for a group of sixty dropouts between the ages of sixteen and twenty one, if the Board of Education would insure the continued education of these potential employees. Under a grant from the Ford Foundation, four Chicago Teachers were assigned to the project.
Volunteer students of the program began EE trainingby attending a dinner at which the rationale and procedure of the venture were explained. Familial support proved to be a factor in student success. After the orientation meeting, students embarked on a three week pre employment course in such subjects as how to improve basic skills, and the importance of good grooming. Public school teachers and guest speakers from the company served as the instructional staff for the pre-employment sequence.
After the first three weeks, Carson's personnel Department made an appraisal of each student's interests, abilities, and job potential. On the basis of this appraisal, the student was assigned, initially at the rate of $1.15 / hr., to one of the numerous positions,such as selling, stock handling, display, merchandise receiving, checking and marking, or food service. Each job was a regularly requisitioned one, rather than one created for student employment.
Two students were assigned to one six-days a week job with each student working on an alternate schedule of three days at work and two days in classes. the courses,m given ten months a year, were in the areas of English, Social Studies, business, and essential mathematics. an attempt was made to relate the content to the jobs of the students. For example, mathematics dealt withprice items on sales slips, totaling amounts of money, and with the computation of salaries, withholding taxes, and social security payments. spelling and reading included content not entered in the student's work department.
Special workshops, taught by public school teachers provided opportunity for independent studyby those individual students who coul;d be encouraged and assisted toward completing work for a high school diploma through completing required subjects or electives which for lack of sufficient demand were not offered in regular classes. High School credit was given for all courses. Evaluation and motivation were inextricably intertwined. Each youngster was assigned a "big brother" or "big sister"-- a junior executive, usually a college graduate, who had volunteered to be a laisonin the supervisor-pupil-teacher relationship. There was close cooperation between the teacher and the supervisor or big brother, so that course content could be geared toward removing those deficiencies that became apparent at work.
Because of the program's initial success-- 90% of the students received merit increases, and more than half remained in the store-- the program was continued, and other business establishments were invited to join. Students were working as order clerks, telephone operators, and addressograph operators at Bell Telephone, Sears Roebuck, the Conrad Hilton Hotel, and many other places. But in this program, too, the problem that plagues many work-experience programs exists, namely, the shortage of job stations. Some of the students are now working in jobs created by the board of Education.
Although the Double EE was set up as a work study program, there is some doubt as to whether this was close to all the participants. Merit increases by the store bore no relation to the student's school work. Regardless of whether his schoolwork and attendance were satisfactory or unsatisfactory, a student could receive a salary increase if his storework was satisfactory. What is even more to the point, the schoolk personnelwere not consulted in giving of raises. Hence, the strong possibility existed that then students saw no relationship between the school and the job, and, therefore, no need for continuing education(Schreiber,1967).
Needless to say, now, almost 40 years later, and a new century upon us, the dropout epidemic is still a plague, with violence engulfing our society with a vicious rage.
where companion disagreements were once settled with a fistfight at the most, and the next day you might well return again to becoming best friends, now youth go back for a weapon to settle a dispute over a drug deal gone array, or even for something less significant, like the adolescents who threw the five year old out of a window of a high rise for not stealing for them. These children weren't afforded the chance to drop out of school.
New penitentiaries are cropping up with a shameful percentage of minority youth being encarcerated in them.

In 1995 there appeared to be a change in attitude for the dropout dilemma as the school reform board of trustees began to pay community based organizations to expand or launch dropout recovery programs, and in 1998 chipped in City College money to increase the services to students seeking GED (General Education Degree) certificates. Also in 1998, though the system has had alternative schools, the first of three inside-the-system alternative schools was opened, emerging from the Office of Specialized Servives, (Kelleher 1998).
One good thing that has happened in Chicago is the small schools movement. Studies on dropout rates show a decrease as schools get smaller, and there is also a lessening of other school problems such as drugs, alcoholism, and violence, (Klonsky 1998). In Chicago, high schools average 1,520 students, but the current research showing the benefits of the small school environment offers hope and an array of possibilities for transforming this situation, (Klonsky, 1998).
One tragic mistake made by the Chicago School system was the decision to double flunk some 1300 students wrote an experienced Whitney Young teacher, claiming the board sought statistical improvement in the citys body as a whole, over taking the individual child into account, in a letter to Catalyst a school reform Journal. He further alludes, those who have double flunked tend not to finish school, and therefore become a burden to society.
Under pressure to increase attendance rates and test scores, Chicago High Schools, are dropping more students from their rolls, (Kelleher 1999).
When these students leave school, they dont disappear. They cant get a job with a future. They are much more likely to end up disrupting their neighborhoods and getting into trouble with the law, says Suzanne Davenport, acting director for Designs for Change, another school reform group, (Kelleher,1999).
Reports from alternative schools for dropouts indicate that some of the dropped students want to be in school,(Kelleher,1999).
Bill Levy, executive director of the greater west Town Development Project, has urged the board to consider the drop out rates as well as test scores when putting schools on probation and taking them off,(Kelleher 1999).
Others question the use of the term "probation" as to whether or not is an appropriate term that should be used for using with a school having difficulties.
To make sense of the profoundness of the dropout dilemma, in order to grasp at the social inequities that underlie this immense social problem, lets look carefully at the implications of the fact that we are living in the most violent society in the history of the world, now with the advent of thriving privatization of penal institutions, the negligence of parents not getting democratically involved, (if the child is lucky enough to have both parents), and the grammar school experience via the grading system, coupled with the evils of the rewards system.
The U.S. diverts attention of our own social problems blaming third world countries for the drug problem, while covering up the fact just who was involved with the introduction of crack cocaine into Los Angeles, and America is the leading arms dealer in the world. These arms have devastated entire civilizations all across the globe. Needless to say, crack reeked havic on the poorest communities of L.A., and the epidemic spread to other large cities, including Chicago.
Street gangs became drug trafficers of this menace, while school children try to make their way through them to get to and from school. Some stay home for fear of gangs, and truancy soars, adding to the already in existence dropout dilemma. Some are dropped from the schools because of poor attendance. This is not mere speculation!
The reporter for the San Jose Mercury News lost his job for exposing the story, though he later published a book,"Dark Alliance" on the subject.
Arms went to Central America where a contra army was trying to overthrow a revolution in Nicaragua, where they threw out one of the worst tyrants in the history of Latin America. The Nicaraguans were able to practically abolish illiteracy, provide free health care and medicine for everyone, and provide free public education through even the university level. The war started under Ronald Reagon, and was labeled the secret war, strategy of terror by the CIA. Reagons own daughter, Patty Davis wrote a book called Deadfall, and spoke of her fathers obsession with overthrowing the revolutionary government in Nicaragua.
The not so secret war is then exposed by the Iran Contra Affair (see the film Coverup). Hearings are held in Washington, and Nicaragua wins a case in the World Court in the Hague, Netherlands. It is the International Court of Justice, and the Nicaraguans were represented by an American lawyer, with the only justice dissenting being an American.
With the advent of the privitization of the prison industry, it is essentially a big business to get drug taking kids / dropouts on probation, guiding them down that prison road, again while turning a blind eye to just who is dumping the crack on poor urban communities.
California Congresswoman Maxine Waters has been spear- heading the drive to get Congress to get to the bottom of the history of the crack epidemic in the U.S.
The point is, do we really care about the dropout problem? Even former Chief Education Officer, Paul Vallas, once said on TV, that we dont have our priorities in order, when billions of dollars are spent on MX missiles.
In view of liberating the dropouts of our society, keep in mind that autonomy is not simply one value among many, that children should acquire, nor is it a technique for helping them to grow into good people. In the final analysis, none of the virtues, including generosity and caring, can be successfully promoted in the absence of choice. A jarring reminder of the fact was provided by the follwing declaration made by a man whose name is (or should be) familiar to most of us: he recalled being taught that my highest duty was to help those in need but added that he learned this lesson in the context of the importance of obey ing promptly the wishes and commands of my parents, teachers, and priests, and indeed of all adults... Whatever they said was always right.
The man who said this was Rudolph Hoss, the infamous commandant of Auschwitz.
Prosocial values are important, but if the environment in which they are taught emphasizes obedience rather than autonomy, all may be lost, (Kohn 1993).
So in what sense are parents and educators cupable for the creation of the dropout? Much of the control we exercise as teachers, and we might add, as parents--belongs properly to the children, and it is fear that keeps us from giving it to them, (Kohn, p. 254).
A child must have a choice in determining what goes into his stomach, what he wears, what he does with his free time, and what he is answerable for in class, writes Nancy Samalin, an advisor on parenting issues. At what age, and on what issues, no precise formula can be specified, but the right day to day balance should be the parents job description, (Kohn, p. 253).
As teachers, it may start, that is, the creation of a drop out, with this uncanny power that we have that can F kids to death with a stroke of a red pen. Unfortunately, many kids that are reared with Fs in school already know about failure, and need to experience success, needless to say. Instead of adopting a more sensible policy like if the student fails, the teacher fails, we continue to sort them like potatoes.
Do we need to Grade? Can we give up something so integral to our educational system that it is hard to imagine life without it?(Kohn 1993).
Grades undermine intrinsic motivation and learning, which only increases our reliance on them. Grades are not motivators but demotivators regardless of the reason given for their use. What grades really offer is spurious precision, a subjective rating masquerading as an objective assessment, allowing administrators to ratre and sort children, and to categorize children so rigidly that they can rarely escape. A grade can be regarded only as an inadequate report of an inaccurate judgement by a biased and variable judge of the extent to which a student has attained an undefined mastery of an unknown proportion of an infinite amount of material.(Kohn 1993).

One study suggests that the destructive impact of grades is not mitigated by the addition of a comment; the implication is that the comment should replace rather than supplement grades. Ironically, grades and tests, punishments and rewards, are the enemies of safety, and they therefore reduce the probability that students will speak up, and that truly productive evaluation can take place.
Grades actually undermine the sort of motivation that leads to excellence. Using them to sort students undermines our efforts to educate, (Kohn 1993).
The relation to the dropout epidemic is evident, when we ask, where does it start?
Though needless to say, other good kids get sidetracked along the way by getting pregnant, or for a myriad of other reasons.
When he was in school, he learned that he was good at nothing, now (the dropout) is told in no uncertain terms that he is good for nothing, (Schreiber 1967).
There have to be more programs that promote the development of self dignity, and self esteem, to reduce police and courtroom contacts, as Schreiber said in 1967.
From the perspective of the writer of this article, a former high school dropout, not by choice in 1966, and then again from College in 1968, who then once became homeless, we need to pay much more attention to this monolithic problem in our society.
As those of us who went to school in the sixties reach the sunset of our existence, as I once told my revolutionary friends in Nicaragua: this is what has been left behind for us, and we have gone some way to change society for the good. Now what will we leave behind for our children?
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote a book called "Where do we go from here?" And the famous singing group Chicago, now LA based, titled a song after it.

In the "Windy city", a city that "works" at night so flambouyantly beautiful, one might also ask, just who is it working for, and is it sustainable? When you think of the energy exhausted from burning the midnight oil, now nuclear waste, where does it go? With the already existant, what do we do with all the garbage, and not knowing what to do with it? What is the cost of keeping the city illuninated all night long, besides the cheap thrills?
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. also wrote a bookcalled, "Why we can't wait?", and what a more gracegraceful note to end on, and surely Dr. King wouldn't mind the paraphrazing, that is, why the drop out can't wait.