earning credit

Report: Districts can do more to give black and Hispanic students access to college courses

Hinkley High School student Catherine Gibson turns toward her college algebra class to explain a problem she works on the board in 2013 at Hinkley High School in Aurora, Colo. (Photo by Jamie Cotten, Special to The Denver Post)

School districts could do more to ensure students, particularly students of color, have an opportunity to take college classes while still in high school.

That’s the conclusion of a new report from a student advocacy group that looked at disparities in access to what is known as “concurrent enrollment” in Colorado schools.

Programs allowing students to take college courses while they are in high school have consistently expanded to more schools and enrolled more students in Colorado for years. They’ve been seen as a way to both prepare students for college and allow them to save money on tuition once they are fully enrolled, since they pay nothing for the courses they pass and complete now.

The student advocacy group, Young Aspiring Americans for Social and Political Activism, gathered data about how many students of each race take concurrent enrollment classes in Aurora and Denver and is releasing a set of recommendations at an event on Friday for how districts might expand access to the courses to more students.

Janiece Mackey, co-founder and executive director of the group, said the data show that there are fewer Latino students taking the college-level courses before high school graduation. However, as an upside, those who do are taking more courses.

Other student groups aren’t seeing that pattern.

“We could have more impact through supporting black students,” Mackey said. “We do best by going to the most marginalized. That’s what these correlations and numbers are showing. There’s more work to be done.”

Annual statewide reports show that in 2015-16, 22 percent of students participating in concurrent enrollment identified as Hispanic and 3 percent identified as black. Both those groups were underrepresented — statewide 33.4 percent of students identified as Hispanic and 4.6 percent as black.

Those state reports also show that Aurora Public Schools is behind other metro area districts in terms of how many students take college courses in high school. Ten percent of all Aurora students take advantage of such programs, while school districts in Englewood, Douglas County, Cherry Creek, and Denver all have higher rates of participation.

In Aurora, the more recent data used in the group’s report from 2016-17 shows white students are accessing concurrent enrollment at a higher percentage with 18 percent of all white students enrolled in the courses, compared to 13 percent of Hispanic students or 11.5 percent of black students.

Mackey said the group created recommendations after conducting interviews with officials that work in, or closely with, concurrent enrollment programs. Among the recommendations: Districts should translate information about the programs into at least the top five languages of their students; they should align courses with career pathways; and they need to find ways to increase access in charter schools and other school models.

This year, state legislators are considering a bill that would change the requirements for how school districts must notify families of concurrent enrollment opportunities. The bill, if passed, calls for districts to provide information about the benefits of taking college courses during high school, including how doing so can reduce a student’s college expenses. The bill would also require districts to clearly lay out deadlines, such as for testing or registration, that students must meet to be able to participate in the courses.

Registration and timelines were identified in the report as some of the barriers students face in trying to take concurrent enrollment.

Mackey said she has provided some input on the bill and supports it, but believes it’s just one step. It would be better, she said, if the state also required the information to be provided in multiple languages, and if it came with money for districts to comply.

“I definitely think it’s a good idea,” Mackey said. “I do think that funding needs to be put with it as well. The state should be addressing and funding this issue and also providing some guidance for the district.”

Mackey’s group is planning to do more research on this topic, including putting together another report that will focus more on students’ experiences accessing these concurrent enrollment programs.

Read the full report below.



Preschool math

Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker plows $100 million more into early ed — but no universal preschool this year

In the past decade, as other states have ramped up their spending on early education, budget-strapped Illinois has fallen further behind.

In his first budget proposal as governor on Wednesday, J.B. Pritzker, a philanthropist who has contributed millions to early childhood causes at home and nationally, laid out a plan to reverse that Illinois trend with a historic $100 million bump for preschool and other early learning programs.

“I have been advocating for large investments in early childhood education for decades, long before I became governor,” he said, laying out a $594 million early education spending plan that is part of an overall $77 billion package. “Investing in early childhood is the single most important education policy decision government can make.”

Later in the address, Pritzker detailed a smaller increase, but one that some advocates said was a welcome shift in policy: He described first steps toward repairing a child care assistance program that was drained of families and providers during the administration of his predecessor, Gov. Bruce Rauner. The new governor plans to spend $30 million more to rebuild the program. He also will increase income eligibility so an estimated 10,000 more families can participate.

“These priorities turn us in a different direction,” said Maria Whelan, CEO of Illinois Action for Children, which administers the child care assistance program in Cook County. Compared with the state’s previous approach, “I feel like I just woke up from a bad dream.”

Pritzker’s otherwise “austere” budget address, as he described it in his speech, came 12 days after his office revealed that the state’s budget deficit was 14 percent higher than expected — some $3.2 billion.

The state’s early childhood budget funds a preschool-for-all program that serves more than 72,000 3- and 4-year-olds statewide in a mix of partial- and full-day programs. Chicago has been using its share of state dollars to help underwrite its four-year universal pre-K rollout, which has gotten off to a bumpy start in its first year.  

The state early childhood grant also supports prenatal programs and infant and toddler care for low-income families.

Pritzker pledged on the campaign trail to pave a pathway toward universal pre-K for the state’s 3- and 4-year-olds, and this budget falls short of the estimated $2.4 billion it would cost, at least according to a moonshot proposal made in January by the lame duck state board of education. The state’s school Superintendent Tony Smith stepped down at the end of January, and Pritzker has yet to name a successor.

But policymakers and advocates on Wednesday said the considerable $100 million increase is a step in the right direction for a state that has been spending less per student than many of its neighbors. According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, Illinois spent $4,226 per young learner in 2016-2017 compared with a national average that topped $5,000. Seven states spent $7,000 or more.   

“This is a big amount in one year, but also it is what we think is needed to move programs forward, and we’re excited to see it,” said Ireta Gasner, vice president of policy at the Ounce of Prevention, an early-education advocacy group

One item Gasner said she hoped to hear, but didn’t, was increased spending on home visiting programs for families with new babies. Spending on such programs next year will remain flat under Pritzker’s proposal. Home visiting has been suggested as one antidote to the state’s troublingly high maternal mortality rates. An October report from the state’s public health department found that 72 percent of pregnancy-related deaths in Illinois were preventable.

“Overall, we still have a long way to go to serve our youngest families and youngest children,” she said.  

In addition to the $100 million, Pritzker’s office reportedly also will add $7 million to early intervention services for young learners with disabilities and set aside $107 million to help buffer the impact of his new minimum wage increase on daycare center owners and other child care providers who operate on thin margins.

On Tuesday, Pritzker signed into a law a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour.

Illinois faces a critical staffing shortage of preschool providers, and several operators have warned that they face mounting pressures from staff turnover, increased regulations, and stagnant reimbursement rates.

Future of Schools

Chicago mayoral hopeful Gery Chico has regrets — and big plans for schools if elected

PHOTO: Adeshina Emmanuel
Mayoral candidate Gery Chico, former school board president.

Former school board president Gery Chico has said that if elected mayor, he would oversee the largest ever expansion of technical and vocational education at Chicago Public Schools.

That’s a very different approach than the one he presided over during his tenure amid a rush to expand rigorous academic programs like the International Baccalaureate and selective enrollment schools that left a lot of families on the outside looking in, especially in black and Latino communities.

Related: Who’s best for Chicago schools? A Chalkbeat voter guide to the 2019 mayor’s race

“We’re losing people from the city over this issue today,” said Chico, board president from 1995 to 2001. “If an African-American parent doesn’t feel that their child who didn’t get into [selective enrollment high school] Whitney Young is going to be served well by the alternatives — they’re out of here. They leave. They may go to the south suburbs or if the change they seek is more dramatic, they may go to Dallas or Atlanta.”

Chico, who also pledges to open eight new selective enrollment high schools if elected, said he wishes he had anticipated how popular selective enrollment and IB programs were going to be, so that the district could keep up with demand. Just as when Chico ran the school board two decades ago, top academic schools and programs still are disproportionately clustered in wealthier and white neighborhoods, and fewer black and Latino students have access to those schools and programs.

Related: 5 tough questions a new report puts front-and-center for Chicago’s next mayor

Despite some regret and criticism of his tenure at the district from detractors like the Chicago Teacher’s Union, Chico counts balanced budgets, test score gains and scores of opened schools among his accomplishments running the district alongside then-schools chief Paul Vallas, another mayoral contender. After leaving the Chicago Board of Education, Chico went on to serve as board president for the City Colleges of Chicago, and later at the Illinois State Board of Education, experience he says provides him a rare vantage point to steer Chicago schools toward improvements.  

If he emerges from the crowded field of candidates in one of the most competitive mayoral elections in recent memory, he said he’d use his power as mayor to open several new trade schools every year for each year of his first term with the goal of spurring Chicago’s “largest ever” expansion of vocational and technical education. His plan is to repurpose closed schools or build new ones to house the specialized career-focused schools.

Related: In one Chicago neighborhood, three high schools offer dramatically different opportunities

Chico wouldn’t say how much it would cost.

He did say he would pay for the plan with budget savings, public-private partnerships with businesses in the trade industry, and surplus economic development dollars from the city’s tax increment finance program. Like other candidates, he’s said he would press downstate lawmakers in the state capitol to fully fund Chicago schools.

“I’m not going to do 20 in one year,” he said. We’re going to phase it in and ramp it up, whether we’re repurposing buildings, or building new buildings, largely with the money of the trade unions. It doesn’t have to break the bank.”

Related: Chicago’s mayoral candidates differ on how they’d improve outcomes for students of color

But Chico’s vocational plan doesn’t mean he’s abandoning the proliferation of rigorous curricula. He said he would expand IB programs from 50 schools to 150.

“This is not one size fits all. Some people want just neighborhood high schools, some people want IB in that high school, some communities like the South and West Sides are clamoring for a selective-enrollment school,” he said. “You have to follow the communities, listen, and then we’ll figure out the best direction based on that dialogue.”

Chicago’s municipal election is Feb. 26.

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