This is the second in a series of reports commissioned by Stand Up! Chicago to address the crisis of low-wage work facing Chicago's communities. This report, produced in partnership with the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), draws upon current academic research in the field of education policy to provide a comprehensive analysis of the relationship between low wages and educational attainment for students in Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Our research reveals that raising wages for low-income families in Chicago would lead to higher test scores, graduation rates and college admission rates for CPS students, and would have a direct positive impact on school performance as a whole.
Specifically, this report finds that:
• Chicago’s education crisis remains intractable, despite decades of new strategies and programs to improve academic outcomes. cPS students continue to fall below national benchmarks in a variety of measures. In 2012, the high school dropout rate for CPS students was 35%—more than double the national average—and reading and math test scores, as well as college readiness rates, fell significantly below national averages.
• Chicago is also facing a poverty crisis that has intensified since the Great Recession began in 2008. According to U.S. census data, the child poverty rate in Chicago increased by nearly 20% between 2008 and 2011, and now well over one-third of Chicago's children live below the federal poverty line. CPS data shows that 87% of students come from households with incomes low enough to qualify for free or reduced school lunches, and 4% of the student population is homeless.
• Our analysis shows that a one parent/one child family in Chicago would have to earn an annual income of about $35,859, or the equivalent of $17.24 per hour for a full-time worker, to be able to meet their basic needs. This is more than double the earnings of a minimum wage worker earning $8.25 per hour, and significantly more than a low-wage worker, defined as a worker earning $12.00 per hour or less.ii
• There is a direct relationship between Chicago’s education and poverty crises. Students living in or experiencing childhood poverty are much more likely to face significant unaddressed obstacles to classroom learning than their middle- and upper-income counterparts, and this impacts educational outcomes. In fact, data shows that family income is now the most significant predictor of academic success among students in the U.S.iii
• current policy endorsed by cPS and other proponents of education “reform” fails to take poverty into account. Instead, these policymakers endorse policies that wrongly blame teachers for out-of-school factors, redirect resources away from the neediest students, and contribute to the expansion of charter schools that on average lag behind traditional neighborhood schools in measures of academic performance. These policies have proven ineffective in addressing the city’s education crisis.
• Lifting families out of poverty through increased wages would have a significant positive impact on academic outcomes for low-income students. Studies have shown that every additional $1,000 in annual income translates into a one point increase in an intelligence test, leading to significantly higher math and reading test scores. raising income levels above the federal free or reduced lunch thresholds would also have a dramatic positive impact on graduation and college readiness rates.
1) Education policy must acknowledge the fundamental role that income plays in educational outcomes. It is imperative that policymakers abandon failed education “reform” policies and ensure that future educational policy changes include strategies to address poverty and support the creation of living wage jobs and better working conditions for working families.
2) CPS and proponents of education “reform” must prioritize addressing Chicago’s poverty crisis as the most effective means of improving academic performance for the city’s public school students. These policymakers should support efforts to raise wages for low-wage workers in Chicago, along with other economic development policies that create good, living wage jobs and lift working families out of poverty.
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