UC researchers find link between freshman algebra, murder rate - FOX 10 News | fox10phoenix.com

UC researchers find link between freshman algebra, murder rate

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Could there be a link between 9th grade algebra and Chicago's murder rate? Researchers at the University of Chicago's Crime Lab believe so. They say an intensive tutoring program for young black men could help many more graduate from high school and reduce the bloodshed.

When UC researchers looked at why a scandalous 56% of young African-American males drop out of Chicago's Public Schools, they made a startling discovery. 9th grade algebra was the crucible. Those who passed usually got their high school diploma. Most young black men who flunked it ended up on the streets in a city where they comprise 80% of murder victims and offenders.

The fix seems simple, but it is expensive.

Thumbs up from tutor Devon James meant Kijuan Powell was on a roll Monday afternoon, successfully simplifying a series of equations. The 9th grader told FOX 32 he liked numbers but felt left behind when classroom teachers failed to explain concepts in a way he could understand.

"These students want to do work. They just need the tools to know how to do it," James says. "We make it relevant, the work that he does. For example, he's a basketball player. He has a great jump shot. And we talk about arcs, talk about angles, tall about energy, talk about the force. Things he has all throughout the day, physics class, but mathematics is the most important thing."

Too many at Englewood's Harper High School arrive three, four or even five years behind grade-level. Some face unimaginable obstacles at home and on the street. Two years ago, 29 Harper students were shot off-campus, eight of them killed. First Lady Michelle Obama paid a personal visit as Harper became a national symbol of the murderous violence gripping a few Chicago neighborhoods. She and the President helped to mobilize resources.

One result was the Match tutoring program aimed at troubled young men. It's run by a branch of the University of Chicago and was expanded last month to a total of 12 Chicago Public high schools. Working closely with a mentoring and sports program called BAM, Becoming a Man, the tutors achieved astounding results at Harper last year: student misconducts fell 67%, absenteeism fell 22% and academic course failures dropped 37%.

"It's about math. But it's also about relationships," explains Mark Saint, Match Tutor Site Director at Harper High School. "So, we make relationships with the students, so it's two on one or three on one high-impact tutoring. We make relationships with the parents. We call home once a week to let them know how they're doing. We follow up with them. It's not just the classroom."

The daily, high-impact tutoring costs about $2,500 for each student, according to the researchers at the University of Chicago. They're carefully measuring how well it really works. The study will take two years. Among preliminary findings: when compared to those not getting this special attention, the young men in Match tutoring are projected to have 50-60% fewer violent crime arrests.

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