Chicago Public Schools announced on Monday that students achieved a record high school graduation rate of 73.5 percent, thanks in part to alternative school options that allow students to complete credits in weeks instead of an entire semester.
A statement said 20,438 students earned diplomas in 2016. The graduation rate has increased 16 percent since 2011, when the graduation rate was around 50 percent.
Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey told NewsOne these results stem from more than a decade of “concerted efforts, based on sound education practices.” He pointed to a focus on keeping freshmen on track.
“There’s an obvious correlation between a freshman failing algebra and dropping out of school,” he underscored.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the city’s students now have a brighter future.
“Not only are more Chicago students graduating than ever before, they’re also moving on to college at a higher rate than ever before – a direct result of the hard work by our students, parents, teachers, and school leaders,” the mayor said in the statement.
Sharkey said credit for this turnaround goes to students, community organizations, and educators who have been part of the long-term process—not to the many “politicians who have not been involved in the hard work.”
The Chicago Tribune said this news comes almost a year after the city reduced four years of inflated high school graduation rates by up to 3 percent. Public school officials calculated this year’s rate using the same method that led to last year’s adjustment.
Sharkey believes that the graduation rate has indeed increased. “At the same time, politicians often want to inflate the numbers,” he stated. “There are ways to cook the data.” Nevertheless, none of that “invalidates” the hard work that has yielded more high school graduates.
WBEZ noted the school district’s use of alternative schools as another reason for the graduation rate increase. According to the news outlet, for-profit companies operate many of these schools and offer online courses, which sometimes enable students to complete credits in weeks instead of an entire semester.
The report said neighborhood high schools, which often lowered the citywide graduation average, improved by 4.6 percent. According to The Tribune, African-American students now have a graduation rate of about 67 percent, compared to 78 percent for Hispanics and 81 percent for White students.
The improvement among the city’s African-American students shouldn’t overshadow the “gross inequalities Black students face,” Sharkey said, pointing to school closures in African-American neighborhoods and the loss of Black teachers.
He said closing the graduation gap between Black and White students requires institutional and financial changes.