For the last 30 years, the city of Chicago—from grassroots activists to local foundations to City Hall—has undertaken nothing less than the gut rehab of its public education system. Billions of dollars and untold hours of sweat equity from teachers, parents, principals and community leaders have been invested in the improvement of the Chicago Public Schools.
In the daily rough-and-tumble of the political and fiscal challenges faced by the district, it can be difficult to see the return on this massive collective investment. But the rehab effort is working, and today’s students are reaping real benefits. Hard data show the progress: improved test scores, more graduates and more college-goers.
Recently, new research from Sean Reardon, Professor of Poverty and Inequality in Education at Stanford University, shows that Chicago’s public elementary schools are helping students who start off behind in third grade nearly catch up to the national average by the end of eighth grade. This rate of learning outpaces what happens in 96 percent of all U.S. school districts: urban, rural and suburban. Such a remarkable achievement deserves careful attention, both to understand why it is happening and to discover what lessons could be applied elsewhere.
Reardon’s new findings are not the only evidence of Chicago’s progress. Chicago elementary-school students are the main driver of Illinois’ test score gains on both the state achievement exams and the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a rigorous yet low-stakes test that shows how students compare across the United States. By 2017, Chicago’s high school graduation rate
Janice Jackson (Chicago Public Schools) at the CPS Forum
More of those graduates are starting college. According to an October 2017 report from the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research, a research-practice partnership that supports improvement in Chicago’s public schools, the share of Chicago Public Schools graduates enrolling in 4-year colleges and universities—44 percent—outpaces that of other urban districts, which range from 23 to 38 percent. Across the country, the 4-year college enrollment rate for students graduating from low-income high schools stands at 29 percent, far lower than college enrollment in CPS.