Byline: Don Thompson Daily Herald State Government Writer
Editor's note: First in a continuing series
SPRINGFIELD - As the suburbs grow increasingly diverse, suburban schools are facing new challenges - and the results suggest many may be failing.
Fully 70 percent of the students who dropped out of Mundelein High School last year were minorities, for example, though the school itself is 28 percent minority.
At St. Charles High School, Illinois State Board of Education figures show 61 percent of the dropouts were minority students, while the school's enrollment is just 6 percent minority.
Those schools are extreme examples, but they are hardly alone. A Daily Herald review of state records found a generally heavily disproportionate percentage of minority dropouts, even as minority students flock to the suburbs.
Just as troubling, a review of separate data found high failure rates in many districts' bilingual or English as a second language programs.
In 61 percent of Northwest and West suburban districts, a majority of students who left bilingual or English as a second language programs in 1996-97 did so without completing the requirements.
"One of the biggest challenges in suburban school districts has to do with the issue of diversity" particularly in districts where that change is rapid, said Sheila Radford-Hill, the state board's administrator for alternative learning partnerships. "This is unfortunately a problem that we've got to get a better handle on - dropouts in general, but particularly when you look at the ratio of minority dropouts to mainstream dropouts."
Statewide, 21,869 of the 37,375 students who dropped out of school in 1996-97 - 58.5 percent - were minorities. That compares with a total minority enrollment of 38 percent, but is skewed by high dropout rates in heavily minority Chicago and East St. Louis-area schools.
"Whereas most white kids believe the American dream, a lot of (minority) students don't buy into the premise that there's a job waiting for them or any benefit to graduating," said Michael Klonsky, an education professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Poverty, too, can be a factor, prompting poor performance by minority and white students alike, said Fred Hess, director of Northwestern University's Center for Urban School Policy. And minority students may face additional cultural or economic pressure to drop out to help support the family or take care of younger children, said Xavier Botana, who coordinates the state's bilingual programs.
"What looks like race may be more class differences," Hess said of the problems in some suburban schools. "Average affluent white kids handle large institutions pretty well. For minority kids for whom race …