The students of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) have achieved some of the biggest gains of any large urban school district in America in recent years. As the head of education for Chicago, I can say with confidence that this is neither an anomaly nor a fluke.
Our success is the result of strategic policies governing everything from teacher quality to school choice, and best practices that prepare students for success from the day they enter preschool until the moment they don a cap and gown—not to accept their high school diploma, but to receive their college degree.
Why are we succeeding? Because CPS is focused squarely on school quality.
We’re not concerned with the “type” of school our students choose. In fact, we believe in school choice, as we believe that competition can and should motivate our schools to continue improving and reject the status quo.
Our goal is that whatever school our families choose, be it neighborhood, charter, magnet or selective-enrollment, that school provide Chicago’s children with a high-quality learning environment—and that every neighborhood have a quality option.
We measure that quality with a universal evaluation system known as the CPS School Quality Rating Policy. Besides holding every Chicago school to the same rigorous standards, this policy paints an accurate picture of a school’s journey toward excellence.
It does not rely on an arbitrary standard of growth. Rather, it evaluates school quality based on the progress each school has made, which motivates our teachers and school leaders to strive for and celebrate gains they make along the way.
If we measure school quality in terms of growth, why should our evaluation of educators be any different?
CPS believes in the power of our teachers and school leaders to drive student achievement, which is why we’ve created evaluation systems that are tied in part to student growth. We’ve also strengthened our policy for principal eligibility, focusing on these potential leaders proven ability to advance student performance.
In 2017, CPS students reached a record-high graduation rate of 77.5 percent, and our college enrollment rate is now on par with the national average. Chicago’s youth are proving that they have the knowledge and skills to succeed, and that is directly linked to what is happening in our classrooms.
CPS has fully implemented the Common Core State Standards in all elementary schools. We’ve made our high schools more rigorous, with expansions to AP and International Baccalaureate programs, all while connecting with students from day one of ninth grade to make sure they are fully supported.
We are also using data in sophisticated ways that track student progress and allow us to intervene before a child’s future is in jeopardy.
Data is a powerful tool for designing instruction and driving student growth, which is why CPS has been proud to partner with the Consortium on Chicago School Research, an affiliate of the University of Chicago, to collect and analyze student data.
We have also relied heavily on data from the national NWEA exam, as it gives us information on student performance in real time. NWEA data has helped CPS create better systems for monitoring student progress, and has led to a more dynamic learning environment that is focused on the unique growth of each individual child.
These CPS practices, along with the empowering of principals, the streamlining of bureaucracy and the expanding of accountability, including replacing schools that were not working with schools that are, have put CPS on the right path, and have made national leaders in the field of education stand up and take notice.