Late on a Wednesday afternoon, students from Betty Lane's seventh hour English class file into the computer lab at Cairo High
School. They were preparing for the Prairie State Achievement Exam by doing real life math applications. Minutes after class begins, several students receive error
messages from their computers.
Doyal Hunter, technology coordinator, scurries across the room, trying to find enough working computers for the students. One girl, frustrated after moving among
three non-functioning computers, announces out loud that she is done for the day, even though only 10 minutes have passed.
I don't need this (expletive) computer to tell me that I'm smart, she says, I know I am, I just don't care. I'm dropping out of school next year.
Welcome to Cairo High School, a school where few children will make it to college, where the average ACT score is a dreary 15, where 11 percent of the
female students are pregnant, where 96 percent of the children are poor, where the principal's office is a revolving door, where one year of Spanish is the only foreign language
offered, where there are no advanced placement courses and where, some years, the math sequence doesn't reach trigonometry, much less calculus.
Cairo was put on academic probation in 2005 because of its students' poor performance on the Prairie State exams. Only 12 percent of the students either met or exceeded
testing standards in reading, while 14 percent met or exceeded standards in math.
The ACT average of 15 reflects this low level of academic achievement. That score is five points below the state average of 20.2 and puts the average Cairo student in
the bottom 13 percent of high school students nationwide. An ACT score of 15 is below the minimum admissions requirements of all Illinois state colleges and