Here at the To&Through Project, we work to make data accessible with an aim to inspire action. As a result, we’ve often had the honor of being privy to our colleagues’ personal reflections on the data we share, and their varying perspectives shape the way we think about this work.
Below, we share Dr. Janice K. Jackson’s reflections on one of our Data Insights — which summarize years of research from the UChicago Consortium and To&Through Project — and her pushes for thinking about how students’ voices can inform our collective work to improve the system.
Chicago Public Schools’ “Bs or Better” campaign grew out of the research finding depicted in this Data Insight. Research had also shown us that, on average, students’ GPAs generally didn’t tend to improve after ninth grade. If students’ ninth-grade course performance was that strongly associated with whether or not they made it through college, we knew that our work wasn’t just about making sure that they didn’t fail in ninth grade so that they could graduate high school. It was about making sure that their ninth-grade GPA signaled that they were prepared to graduate college.
Originally, high schools thought there was nothing they could do to prevent students from dropping out — until we generated widespread investment in Freshman OnTrack. Similarly, this Data Insight shows us that high schools have some influence on students’ postsecondary persistence, too. If we’re going to see a meaningful improvement in CPS’ college completion rates, I think we’ll need to double down on the “Bs or Better” campaign. At the same time, we will also need to hold higher education institutions accountable for better serving our students.
The data around college completion continues to be some of the most frustrating for me. I feel like people understand the stark disparities, but often, they understand the issue through a lens that is focused on the individual student, not the system. Yet disparities in CPS students’ course performance signal how inequitably they were supported to succeed, not their capacity to succeed. I would love to see more qualitative data that makes this clear and informs our understanding about why our education systems are producing these disparities.
—Dr. Janice K. Jackson, CEO of Hope Chicago