A new online tool paints perhaps the most comprehensive picture to date of how children in each Chicago community are faring, tracking how they’re doing before they enter school to whether young adults graduate from high school and find jobs.
By clicking around the “Youth Opportunity Dashboard,” one can see that in Albany Park on the North Side, about 45% of children age 5 and under live in poverty, some 46% of elementary school children are on track with grades and attendance, 87% of students in area high schools graduate and about 81% of 16- to 24-year olds have jobs.
Meanwhile, in Gage Park on the Southwest Side about 72% of young children are in poor families, 35% are on track in elementary school, 82% in area high schools graduate and 73% of youth have jobs.
The organization that created the dashboard said they don’t want people to use it to compare neighborhoods, but rather to help philanthropists and policymakers direct resources and make changes.
A Better Chicago is a nonprofit venture philanthropy, which pools money to invest in programs, CEO Beth Swanson said. The organization’s mission is to fight poverty by supporting programs that create opportunities for youth.
The youth dashboard intends to create a “crisp, clear story about youth outcomes citywide and by community,” Swanson said. In addition, it can help programs put their work into context.
Much of the information on the dashboard is publicly available in other places, but the dashboard is unique because it brings the data together in one place and displays it by community area, said Onel Abreu, the group’s director of data and impact. The dashboard is a combination of data from the U.S. Census, city of Chicago, the Illinois State Board of Education and Chicago Public Schools. It includes 26 indicators.
The information about children before they enter school is especially revealing because it is not easily accessible otherwise. But it also shows how much more data is needed to understand what is happening with this age group. The primary indicator is kindergarten readiness, which is based on teacher observation and is only starting to be collected by the state. The dashboard also shows many communities have no quality early childhood sites as rated by a state agency. Also, 44% of young children up to age 5 live in poverty.
Abreu said looking at the poverty rates in some communities could underscore the importance of having quality child care available at times parents need it.
“I do think there’s just a lot that is ripe for disruption in that space in terms of understanding what are the policy changes we can make to improve and change the poverty situation,” he said.
The dashboard also clearly shows how devastating the pandemic was to learning in Chicago, said Becky Betts, chief marketing and external affairs officer of A Better Chicago.
Among other indicators, it features an elementary on-track rate, which is calculated by the University of Chicago’s To&Through Project, which gets student-level data from CPS. The on-track rate looks at how many students have a 3.0 grade-point average and above 90% attendance.
Across the city, only about 43% of elementary students are on track and there are some communities, such as North Lawndale, Pullman and West Englewood, that saw already low elementary on-track rates drop even further in the last few years.
Abreu adds that post-pandemic there also was an increase in out-of-school suspensions, especially in schools in communities on the South and West sides. He said this is not something he has seen highlighted, but it is important to take note.
The organization plans to update the data at least once a year.