Public schools fail at graduation

The news: In March, President Barack Obama announced the launch of Grad Nation, a 10-year campaign to combat the national dropout rate and better prepare students to succeed in college and the workforce. Behind the news: A Chicago Reporter analysis of Illinois State Board of Education data found that the one-year dropout rate for the 2007-08 school year was 12 percent in Chicago Public Schools–”the highest it has been since 2003. Black students accounted for 57.5 percent of all Chicago Public Schools dropouts that year, though they made up 51 percent of the student body. By contrast, white students, who made up 8 percent of the student body, accounted for 7 percent of all dropouts. Reflecting national trends, graduation rates for males were consistently lower than for females across racial categories.

Access denied in minority areas

The news: With the launch of the iPad in April, Apple expanded the opportunities for wireless access beyond homes and smart phones. Behind the news: Although Chicago is approaching “digital excellence,” many Chicagoans lag behind on Internet access and online literacy, according to a 2009 study of citywide technology use by the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Iowa. The study found that 25 percent of city residents were completely offline, and almost 40 percent faced some barrier to access. Income was the biggest factor determining whether people had home Internet access. Residents with annual incomes of $20,000 or less were 29 percent less likely to have access than those with incomes of $75,000 or more.

Appointments boon for Daley

The news: In February, 29th Ward Alderman Isaac Carothers resigned his post after pleading guilty to bribery charges. Behind the news: Carothers’ resignation allows Mayor Richard M. Daley to appoint an alderman for the 35th time during his tenure. Almost half, or 17, of those appointments have been in the city’s 20 majority black wards, nearly twice as many as in the 15 majority white wards. In the past 10 years, seven of the 11 appointees, including Carothers’ replacement, have been in black wards, and only two have been in white wards. Carothers replacement will be the 19th mayoral appointee on the current council.

Act I: Access

On a Saturday afternoon in January, 10 people sat around a square of plastic tables in the rehearsal room of a Lincoln Park theater discussing the realism of a script. It featured a pair of female vampires working at a Las Vegas salon. Goodnatured teasing punctuated serious critiques, and it was obvious many of the attendees had known each other for years. It was a typical writers’ workshop–”except that this one has two blind members. The person who brought these people together was Mike Ervin, a 53-year-old freelance journalist and playwright with a gray beard and a deep, raspy voice.