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Navigating A Data Driven Society to the Path of Educational Excellence

A critical aspect of achieving a model of educational excellence involves establishing early warning systems to eliminate or significantly reduce dropout rates amongst those at a greater risk.  Last month, Teamwork Englewood galvanized parents and community stakeholders to view the documentary Drop Out Nation.  The documentary attempted to help answer the question: How do you identify middle school students who are at risk of dropping out?  The documentary supported evidence provided by Dr. Charles Payne of the University of Chicago, suggesting a direct correlation between attendance and academic achievement.  Statistics highlighted in the documentary show there is a 75% chance that students who attend school less than 80% of the time or fails a core course, will drop out.  While statistics are necessary, often time the data may not tell a comprehensive story with regard to the students’ experience or reason for struggling academically.  

Dr. Belfanz of John Hopkins University, has uncovered indicators that are essential for predicting how likely a student is to drop out of high school.  Those indicators described as the “ABSs”, are three-fold: attendance, behavior and course performance.  According to Dr. Belfanz, students will begin the path to “dropping out” in middle school.  Dolores Peterson, Principal of Middle School 244 in the documentary Drop Out Nation, says “…students face challenges sometimes that young children shouldn’t have to face.”  In an effort to help alleviate some of the challenges that her students experience, Ms. Peterson along with her team of experts, will administer “upfront prevention” through a series of targeted interventions for some of the students who are considered to be the most troubled.  Dr. Robert Belfanz says, “…Kids need to know that an adult cares – a sense of shepherding.”  The documentary also shed light on the fact that across America, there are thousands of students at risk that are hidden behind the data. 

Each year 1.3 million students drop out of high school each year (Drop Out Nation, 2012).  Schools collect data on students, if used properly, can alert administrators of those who are at risk.  Here is a snapshot of the four strongest indicators the data provides for students who are at risk of dropping out:

  • Attendance: Students who attend school less than 80% of the time.
  • Failing Core Subjects:  Students who fail English or Mathematics.
  • Socioeconomics:  Schools where at least 40% of the students qualify for government-subsidized lunch.
  • Behavior:  Students who receive an unsatisfactory behavior grade in a core course.

School administrators begin to use this data proactively to reduce the rate of drop out amongst students.

In an effort to address the epidemic of children at risk for academic failure, Teamwork Englewood through the Englewood Education Leadership Initiative hosted a meeting on April 4, 2013 at Robeson High School designed to help parents and community members understand the data.  Guest speakers Elaine Allensworth, interim Executive Director at the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research and Managing Director of the Urban Education Institute and Marisa de la Torre, Associate Director for Professional Development at the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research presented data on the Five Fundamentals for School Success.  

There are five essential supports necessary to achieve school success.  Those supports are:

  • School leadership: Principals who are strategic, focused on instruction, and include stakeholders in their work are generally successful.
  • Parent-community ties: It is essential that schools create a welcoming environment to help nurture the connection between parents and the school community.
  • Professional capacity: School administrators should engage in strategic recruitment efforts to secure a team of faculty and staff that share specific beliefs and values that will promote academic achievement and ongoing quality professional development. 
  • Student-centered learning climate: Schools can improve instruction by creating a safe, welcoming, stimulating and nurturing environment focused on learning for all students
  • Instructional guidance: The organization of curriculum, academic demand and teachers’ advanced knowledge of the materials, will improve math and reading amongst students. 

Developing a Model of Educational Excellence

Communication and collaboration are important aspects to developing a model of educational excellence.  However, there are other aspects of developing a model of educational excellence. 

  • Students spend the majority of their time at school.  Create a school environment that offers a reminiscent feeling of home.  Including positive affirmation reminding students that they are capable of achieving great success helps to create an environment that promotes educational excellence. 
  • Parents serve as educational partners.  Therefore, parents should be proactive with their involvement in the school community.  For example: attend school sponsored activities in addition to parent-teacher conferences or volunteer in your child’s classroom.   
  • Initiate open communication between parents, students, and teachers.  Open communication and dialogue is essential.  Take the first step and initiate dialogue to help all parties understand the essential goal.  Early communication between parents and teachers can help keep students on the right track.
  • Curriculum and technology infused in the classroom as a means to improve instruction.  Incorporating technology into the day-to-day instructional activities will help prepare students for an ever changing global society.  By introducing various assessment tools and instructional strategies, students can be exposed to technology in a manner that not only improves learning but sparks an interest in technological advancement.  
  • Eliminating barriers to growth such as absenteeism, disengagement, misbehavior and lack of school readiness. Black and Latino children in particular, experience barriers to successes as a result of poverty and race.  The answer to enriching the lives of these children is based upon being placed in an environment where there is a sense of moral purpose.  Exposing children to an environment centered on a moral perspective helps promote the change necessary to positively affect an entire neighborhood and community.

In addition to the identification of the five fundamentals for school success, Elaine Allensworth and Marisa de la Torre developed an on-track indicator by conducting research on student performance in high school.  In turn, the data was used to provide middle schools with feedback about their students’ success.  The on-track indicator is a stronger predictor of student success than all background factors such as eighth grade test scores, mobility, race, economic status and gender. 

The conversation has been initiated to understand data and the predictor of student success.  It is imperative that the conversation continues amongst educators, parents, and community stakeholders to improve the educational opportunities for all students.  Through continuous dialogue, a plan of action can be implemented to improve the quality of education for our students as well as increase the number of model schools within our communities. 


Keywords: Chicago Public Schools, CPS, Education

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