Poverty 4X higher for Chicago high school dropouts than college grads

Poverty 4X higher for Chicago high school dropouts than college grads

Poverty rates in Chicago drop with each level of educational attainment. Chicagoans without a high school diploma face poverty rates more than four times higher than those with bachelor’s degrees.

Life will be tough if you’re a Chicagoan without a high school diploma: your chances of living in poverty are more than four times higher than for your peers who finish college.

Research shows every level of education a person completes improves lifetime earnings, plus median earnings improve. In fact, a child’s future could be determined as early as third grade.

A student’s literacy at the end of third grade is a reasonably accurate predictor of their odds of graduating high school, experts found. By this measure, the outlook for Chicago third-grade students is grim, as only 20% of Chicago Public Schools third-grade students could read at grade level in 2023 and just 21% could perform math proficiently.

These low rates of proficiency extend to high school students, where just 22% of Chicago 11th grade students were proficient in reading in 2023 and 19% in math, according to the Illinois State Board of Education report card.

Graduation rates in CPS continue to rise despite low rates of proficiency among high school students. But whether CPS has given graduates much opportunity for success is questionable: how can they succeed with such low rates of proficiency in reading and math?

How education impacts Chicago poverty

Educational attainment isn’t a silver bullet to reducing poverty, but poverty measures show an individual’s increasing educational attainment can effectively reduce the likelihood of falling into poverty.

Educational attainment increases access to higher-paying jobs and is associated with a greater likelihood of employment – one of the greatest determinants of poverty. That means those with higher levels of education often get better, higher-paying jobs and experience bouts of unemployment at a much lower rate.

Poverty rates drop precipitously with each higher level of educational attainment, in large part because of these effects.

Those without a high school diploma face poverty rates more than four times higher than those with bachelor’s degrees. Nearly 27% of Chicagoans without a high school diploma are in poverty, compared to 21.5% with a high school diploma and 6.5% with a bachelor’s degree.

Graduation rates in Chicago

The Chicago Public Schools class of 2023 achieved a record-high graduation rate of 84%, according to a press release by CPS. District leaders celebrated this record rate, which surpassed the class of 2022’s previous record of 82%.

The press release stated graduation rates in CPS are on an upward trend, with the graduation rate being just 59% a decade ago in 2013.

Low proficiency despite increasing graduation rates

CPS is celebrating the upward trending and record-high graduation rate, but there is a disconnect between student proficiency and those rates.

The class of 2023 took the state-required SAT in their junior year in spring 2022. On that assessment, just 21% could read or perform math at grade level. Yet one school year later, Chicago celebrated an 84% graduation rate for their senior class.

While there is reason to celebrate the increased graduation rates in CPS for future earnings potential, there remains concern about the quality of CPS students’ learning before graduation and the harms linked to low adult literacy.

A Barbara Bush Foundation report on adult literacy finds income is strongly related to literacy. It is important that CPS prepares its graduates for life beyond high school, including a foundation for graduates to be successful in careers and gainfully employed.

Yet the discrepancies between proficiency rates and graduation rates in CPS are cause for concern over social promotion and grade inflation. In CPS, higher grades are being awarded for less achievement in schools, helping to hide students’ struggles since the pandemic. Meanwhile, teachers unions push for fewer accountability measures, further withering the needed emphasis on academic excellence.

CPS should deliver high school diplomas and academic preparedness

CPS ought not celebrate rising graduation rates unless those rates coincide with significantly rising proficiency. It is a disservice to simply graduate students without making sure they have learned and are ready for the workplace.

A study by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research found CPS students struggle to graduate college in less than 6 years. Among the costs to students who do not graduate college in the expected four years are extra tuition costs and delayed entry into jobs.

It is important that CPS continues to invest in measures that assist students to graduate high school. But a CPS high school diploma ought to be coupled with a student’s ability to display proficiency and preparedness in core skills such as reading and math. Chicago’s graduates need a solid foundation to attain the higher earnings and better employment opportunities that come with each higher level of educational attainment.

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