By the Numbers

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Medians (percentages): graduation, 91.1/dropout 2.3

These two figures are not supposed to add up to 100 percent. The graduation rate counts the members of an entering class of freshmen who finish together four years later. (It is possible for a school to have a 100 percent graduation rate even if some students do not graduate, because students who move into the school midway through high school are counted, too.) The dropout rate counts all students in grades 9 to 12 who left school permanently during a single school year—in this case, 2005-2006—for any reason other than death, extended illness, graduation, transfer to another public or private school, or expulsion.

Of the 50 high schools with the lowest graduation rate on our chart, 46 are in Chicago. The pattern is similar with dropout rates: Of the 50 worst schools in this category, 49 are in Chicago. As suggested above, the small-schools movement may help Chicago turn these figures around. Two small schools built within the Orr building in West Garfield Park—Aasta (or the Applied Arts, Science and Technology Academy) and Excel—both show marked improvement over the old school. In Chicago's 2002 chart, Orr, with 1,146 students, had a 30.5 percent dropout rate; on this year's chart, Aasta has a dropout rate of 15.6 percent, and Excel, 9.7.

Medians (percentages): white, 46; black, 9.7; Hispanic, 10.7; Asian, 1.9; multiple ethnicities, 0.6 percent. (These are median numbers and do not add up to 100 percent.)

Racial breakdowns provide a partial snapshot of the diversity of a school's student body. Schools collect and report this data as required by the Illinois legislature. Schools report the percentage of Native American students, but in only four of the 286 public high schools does that figure exceed 1 percent. Those schools are: Glenbrook South in Glenview (8.6 percent, or 230 students); Larkin in Elgin (1.2 percent, or 29 students); Big Picture–Back of the Yards in Chicago (1.3 percent, or 1 student); and Hillcrest in Country Club Hills (1.0 percent, or 14 students).

A comfortable racial balance is, in a sense, a measure of a school's ability to mirror the real world—or the real world as we might hope it would be. CPS's Von Steuben Metropolitan Science Center stands out among all the region's schools for having roughly equal black, white, and Hispanic populations; its Asian population is smaller, but still significant—all in all, a good preparation for the adult world.