WIND POINT — For the past six years, high school graduation rates for Racine Unified have been increasing. But data collected by Higher Expectations shows major gaps between different ethnicities and economic classes.
“We have disparities in this community, in this county,” Jeff Neubauer, executive director of Higher Expectations, said. “That’s real. We can’t pretend like that’s not there. What we need to do is address it in a fundamental and effective way.”
Members from many sectors of the Racine community converged on the Johnson Foundation at Wingspread Monday evening to learn about Higher Expectation’s “2015-2016 Annual Report: Measuring Progress Moving Forward.” Higher Expectations started in 2014 as a “collective impact initiative” to create a capable and employed workforce in Racine County. The organization focuses on data to identify best practices and track the progress from birth to employment.
The disparities, according to the organization’s data, begin as early as kindergarten. In total, the data showed that 78 percent of kindergartners were at or above the fall literacy marks for 2015-16 year. However, when broken down by ethnicity and economic status, it showed 88 percent of white children at or above the fall literacy marks as compared to 71 percent for African-Americans and 68 percent for Hispanics.
For kindergartners from non-economically disadvantaged families, 92 percent were at or above the literacy level, compared with 71 percent for children from economically disadvantaged families. Higher Expectations defined “economically disadvantaged” as those students who qualify for free or reduced-fee school lunch.
“You can look at the percentage of children who are not prepared for kindergarten in our community... it’s about a quarter of the students,” said Neubauer, a local businessman and former state legislator. “Then you look at the high school graduation rate and a quarter of the students don’t graduate. Hello! We need to work on kindergarten readiness.”
The data also showed 92 percent of students were at or above the spring expectations for social and emotional development in 2015-16.
High school similar to kindergarten
The high school graduation rates for Racine Unified School District have been steadily increasing, rising from 68 percent graduating in 2010 to 74 percent in 2015.
But as with the kindergarten scenario, there are differences among ethnicities and economic classes. In 2015, roughly 85 percent of white students graduated high school, as compared to 68 percent for Hispanics and 63 percent of African-Americans. Non-economically disadvantaged students graduated at the highest rate, 85 percent, compared to 65 percent of economically disadvantaged.
Big gains made
Despite those numbers, the largest increases in graduation rates over the last six years have occurred with minority and low-income students. African-Americans increased their graduation rate 17 percent; Hispanics increased 8 percent and the economically disadvantaged increased 13 percent.
“African-American graduation rates have gone up a bunch but they’re not anywhere near where they need to be,” Neubauer said. “The next logical step is to continue the work we’ve been doing for two years and we deepen and broaden our impact through our partners.”
Neubauer hopes initiatives like the Academies of Racine will help not only improve education but also the local employment. The Academies of Racine is the new system implemented this year in Unified’s high schools which assembles students in smaller learning communities to provide real-world experiences with local businesses and professionals, linking schoolwork and the workplace.
“This is not glamorous, silver bullet, solve-the-problem work,” Neubauer said. “This is roll up your sleeves, see where the data takes you, organize the people that are passionate about it ... to begin to move the needle.”
The purpose of informing the community of these realities was so there can be a collective effort to improve the situation.
“We have to use hard transparent, independent and fairly developed data to shine a flashlight as to what it is that we’re doing,” Neubauer said. “We don’t use the data as a club to beat people to death.”
Racine district 12 Alderman Henry Perez listened to the presentation and left feeling positive about the future.
“I think there’s good hope for our city, for our kids especially,” Perez said. “I think our minority students are going to benefit the most from this.”
Those interested in learning more about the data can go to www.higherexpectationsracinecounty.org.