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Iowa City education officials look to fix white-minority graduation rate disparity

BY MARISSA MEHALEK | MARCH 02, 2012 6:30 AM

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Iowa City School District officials are hoping a series of after-school programs will combat local high-school graduation-rate gaps.

Pam Ehly, Iowa City School District director of instruction, said district officials have been concerned about the ethnic disparity among achievement rates in local schools.

"[Though] the gender graduation rates between Iowa City high schools are even, the ethnic achievement gap is larger," she said.

An Iowa School Profiles study supports Ehly's concerns. Graduation rates for local African-American high-school students in 2009 were around 77 percent, or 17 percentage points lower than white high-school students. The study pointed to a similar disparity nationwide, with African American high-schoolers trailing their white peers by almost 20 percentage points.

Though local Latino high-school students were only 5 points less compared with white students, the same groups saw an 18 percentage point disparity statewide.

The district's Diversity Focus group developed the LENS Student Leadership Series this academic year to combat graduation disparities by educating local high-school students on community-leadership issues. The initiative allows students easier access to academic and community groups by partner partnering Diversity Focus with organizations such as Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., FasTrac, and the NAACP.

FasTrac Director Henri Harper said program directors are trying to take a more holistic approach to getting students involved in the community.

"This program brings more attention to students' goals of becoming more involved in the community and therefore changing the perception of others," he said. "The struggle has been difficult for them, because some people refuse to change from dictating them instead of listening to them."

FasTrac, which began in Iowa City in 2007, offers academic support for local high-school students and education on civil-rights issues.

Education officials agreed students at risk of achievement disparities often need such guidance outside their homes.

"This is an important issue because it does not just target one specific group," said Chad Simmons, the executive director of Diversity Focus. "Some students do not have the resources at home, and these programs help execute success for the future through early intervention."

Some University of Iowa officials agreed.

"Not every student has the role models at home," UI Admissions Office Director Emil Rinderspacher said. "Early intervention through these programs help execute these students' success for the future."


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