Chicago public schools have been found to fail meeting graduation rates, responding to students’ needs for college readiness, and closing achievement gaps. Just a tiny 7.9 percentage of all 11th graders tested ready for college in 2011. The graduation rate was only 57 per cent. Reportedly, there remain 123, 000 underperforming school seats within the system of Chicago Public Schools, and it is beyond doubt that students achieve below the grade level (“Despite Some Progress Made, Chicago Public Schools is Not Meeting the Needs of Students for College Readiness, Graduation Rates and Closing Achievement Gaps”). This paper explores the underlying causes of underachievement at Chicago urban schools and reflects on how the situation can be improved through individual efforts.
Chicago urban schools share the same characteristics as other urban schools across the United States. Based on their specific demographic and physical features, which clearly differentiate them from rural or suburban schools, urban schools confront a similar set of challenges. The factors that influence include densely populated areas of location, higher poverty concentrations, bigger ethnic and racial diversity, greater student mobility, and bigger concentration of immigrant children (Kincheloe 1).
The key challenges faced by the urban schools are divided into structural and cultural. Structural challenges refer to particular school practices and policies that act as obstacles to students’ success and clearly fail to address the needs of students in an adequate way. Cultural challenges refer to the set of beliefs, practices, or policies that lead to dysfunctional perceptions of urban school students’ abilities (Noguera).
As for structural challenges, they include lack of instructional coherence, inexperienced teachers, low-performing data management systems, and low expectations of student achievements. Lack of instructional coherence refers to ineffectiveness of numerous instructional initiatives that urban schools use and their inability to target specific needs of student population. Further, inexperienced teaching staff is a challenge, since in urban schools, where the concentration of poverty is high, most teachers are unqualified or poorly experienced. There is high rate of teacher turnover in urban schools, thus they often fail to build a base of experienced school teachers. Ineffective data management systems refers to lack of such data management systems that would facilitate identification of students’ needs and monitoring of their progress. Lastly, low expectations of students have been fixed on the structural level. This mainly refers to lack of demanding courses, lack of focus on talented students, consultation help beyond school (Ahram, Stembridge, Fergus, & Noguera).
As for cultural challenges, these include specific perceptions of race and class, faulty perceptions of intellectual deficiencies, insufficient cultural responsiveness in politics and practices. African American and Latino students are frequently viewed by teaching staff as not ready for school and exposed to cultural bias based on these students low-income background and home environments. Next, based on significantly lower achievement levels of African American or other minority students, they learning styles may be misinterpreted as deficiencies. Yet, they may simply be a result of psychological barriers children have as a method to confront bias, etc. Finally, lack of school policies that would focus on ethnic, racial, and cultural features of the students and their communities creates a barrier between them and the teaching staff and makes the school environment seem inhospitable (Ahram, Stembridge, Fergus, & Noguera).
On an individual level, it is recommended to address cultural challenges, first of all. These largely depend on individual teacher efforts, so practitioners should assess their on cultural biases, expectations, and misinterpretations, and identify areas where improvement can be made. In particular, it is possible to heighten the expectations of students and start to perceive them as smart kids. This will motivate them to achieve. Also, teachers may invest efforts into building a culturally friendly class environment by informing students about the values of ever culture, engaging them in various extracurricular activities. Besides, self-education and expansion of knowledge of leaning styles and student psychology will help understand the specifics of students’ learning.
- Ahram, R., Stembridge, A., Fergus, E., & Noguera, P. “Framing Urban School Challenges: The Problems to Examine When Implementing Response to Intervention.” RTI Action Network. 2013. Web. 3 Oct 2013.
- “Despite Some Progress Made, Chicago Public Schools is Not Meeting the Needs of Students for
College Readiness, Graduation Rates and Closing Achievement Gaps”. Chicago Public Schools. 2013. Web. 3 Oct 2013.
- Kincheloe, J. L. “Why a book on urban education?” In S. Steinberg (Ed), 19 urban questions: Teaching in the city (2nd ed., pp. 1–28). New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing, 2010. Print.
- Noguera, P. City schools and the American dream: Reclaiming the promise of public education. New York, NY: Teachers College Press, 2003. Print.