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Online Data Tool Aims Chicago High Schoolers toward College

A new initiative is intended to close the gap between the number of students in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) who aspire to earn a college degree (75 percent) and those who are projected to do so within 10 years of starting high school (18 percent). The To&Through Project is a joint effort of the Urban Education Institute (UEI) and Network for College Success, both organizations based at the University of Chicago.

At the heart of the project is an online data tool that provides public data on how students in Chicago are progressing with their educational paths through high school and college. The framework assumes five "milestones" to achieve college graduation:

  • Freshmen on track;
  • High school graduation;
  • College enrollment;
  • College persistence; and
  • College graduation.

The data tool reports metrics across the entire city as well as by individual high school or "network (geographic collaboratives)." For example, "freshmen on track" notes that as of 2014-2015 85 percent of freshmen were on track to graduate from high school in four years. However, if the 2011-2012 "high school graduation" rate was any indication, the city will fall short; that stood at 74 percent. Just 42 percent of the school system's high school graduates in 2014 chose to enroll in a four-year college in fall 2014.

The hope is that by bringing visibility to the data and then supplying research and resources such as case studies and toolkits, stakeholders — educators, parents, policymakers — could put plans in place to accelerate counts across the board.

To&Through said the online tool would allow users to:

  • Explore patterns of educational attainment among student subgroups;
  • Monitor individual high schools and the district as a whole; and
  • Research what institutions of higher education students from CPS are choosing to apply to and what the graduation rates are for those colleges and universities.

Another resource available on the site is a "freshman on-track toolkit," which includes reports, protocols, videos and "artifacts" used by the organization's coaches as they work with school leaders to help them better support their students through the first year of high school. The on-track work covers four areas:

  • Building school-based teams for on-track work;
  • Cultivating trust and respect among team members;
  • Applying research and data; and
  • Developing leadership skills.

These are some of the same resources used by Chicago's George Washington High School which began the 2012-2013 school year with a 35 percent college enrollment rate, which fell below the Chicago Public Schools average. By working with the Network for College Success, the school's administrators created a "post-secondary leadership team" and worked on enlisting every teacher in the building to discuss college choices with their students. The school also worked with parents to help them understand the college process and set up alerts to notify students as their grade point averages dipped below 3.0, a frequent admission threshold. Those results and others helped increase college enrollment to 59 percent for the 2014-2015 graduates.

"In Chicago we have clearly seen that when good, actionable evidence is in the hands of practitioners, parents and policymakers we can dramatically improve outcomes for young people," said UEI Chairman Tim Knowles in a press release. "The launch of the To&Through campaign makes essential data and tools available to all education stakeholders in Chicago — and creates a model for the nation — as we aim to propel thousands more students to and through college."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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