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Chicago black, Latino students gain ground, still lag due to ‘systemic barriers’

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Despite progress over the last four years across the district, black and Latino children enrolled in Chicago Public Schools still lag behind their white and Asian counterparts, a new report shows.

The report, released Thursday by Thrive Chicago, outlines how CPS students fared in five areas from the 2013-2014 school year to 2016-2017: pre-K enrollment; high school readiness; high school graduation; postsecondary enrollment and completion, and youth employment.

Thrive, a nonprofit group with ties to Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, works with other organizations to promote education and youth services.

CPS saw its biggest gains in K-12. According to the report, 4,329 more children were enrolled in a full day CPS pre-school education program in 2016-2017 than in 2013-2014 — a 48 percent jump.

The report also shows more third-graders reading at or above national standards, up to 58 percent last year from 52 percent in 2014, while eighth-graders scoring at or above national standards in math went up to 63 percent from 51 percent.

In 2017, 89 percent of CPS freshmen were on track to graduate within four years, up from 84 percent in 2014. The CPS high school graduation rate also improved to 75 percent in the 2017 data, which looked at freshmen entering high school in 2013, up from 65 percent in 2011, which includes freshmen who entered in fall 2007. That growth of 10 percentage points was more than three times faster than the national rate, according to the report.

Less impressive are the statistics for postsecondary success. While 66 percent of CPS high school graduates enrolled in two- or four-year colleges in 2016 — up from 62 percent in 2014 — the college graduation rate for CPS grads lingered at 49 percent.

Lastly, the report shows the percentage of youth ages 20-24 who are employed but not enrolled in school hit 67 percent, up from 63 percent.

These uplifting statistics for Chicago youth are tempered by a persistent racial gap throughout the report.

In 2016, for example, a $20,000 gap separated the average earnings of black youth ($14,000 a year) and white youth ($34,000). Also, one in four black youth age 16-24 neither worked nor were in school in 2016, the report found; that’s most of the nearly 50,000 Chicago youths who fall into that category.

Overall, black and Latino youth were two-to-three times more likely to be disconnected from work and school than their white peers, the report concludes.

Racial disparities are also reflected at the elementary and high school level: While 46 percent of black third-graders in CPS met or exceeded national reading standards in 2017, the number of Asian students who did so was 87 percent.

And despite an impressive 14 percentage point jump in black eighth-graders meeting or exceeding national math standards from 2014 to 2017, they remain more than 30 percentage points behind their Asian and white counterparts.

Latino third- and eighth-graders in CPS also saw improved reading and math test scores, but remain behind Asian and white students by double-digit margins.

Further, the report shows that the high school graduation rate has remained stagnant since 2015 for black (67 percent) and Latino (78 percent) students.

Sandra Abrevaya, president of Thrive Chicago, said the disparities are no coincidence, but instead “are symptoms of entrenched systematic barriers that continue to create persistent socioeconomic and racial opportunity gaps. To ensure equity for all, we must collectively remove those barriers.”

She called the report “a valuable tool” that “sheds a light on the some of the racial disparities that persist on youth outcomes,” and hopes it will “galvanize leaders already focused on these issues to double their efforts.”