2008 was a significant year for the Chicago Public Schools, which saw scores on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test rise for the seventh straight year. ISAT scores hit an all-time high, with more than 65 percent of students meeting or exceeding state standards. The district has also seen gains on the ACT. CPS high school students have gained twice as much as the state and three times as much as the nation over the past five years—and in the number of students taking and passing Advanced Placement courses. On the writing portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, CPS’ eighth-graders also out-gained the nation.
CPS’ students continue to make progress—not just in test scores, but in the district’s falling dropout rate, rising first-day attendance rate and college enrollment rate. The district is recruiting more and better-trained teachers, and subjecting them to greater accountability. And, thanks primarily to taxpayer support, many school buildings are in better shape than at any time during the last decade.
“This progress didn’t happen by accident,” said Mayor Richard M. Daley. “It happened because our school leaders and I share a vision in which our public schools educate every student in every school, regardless of where they live or what their background may be.”
The district marked numerous other highlights in 2008. Two CPS high schools: Northside College Prep, 5501 N. Kedzie Ave., and Walter Payton College Prep, 1034 N. Wells St., were selected among the top 100 high schools nationwide by U.S. News and World Report. Both are repeat selections.
Continuing CPS’ efforts to think outside the box, the district unveiled two new initiatives aimed at improving performance. “Green for Grades” gives 20 high schools students financial incentives for bringing home As, Bs and Cs, while the Chicago Teacher Advancement Program (TAP), piloted in the 2007-08 school year in 10 schools and in 10 more this school year, focuses on performance awards, enhanced training, common planning time and career enhancement for teachers and other school staff.
The year began with current U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings in Chicago along with President George W. Bush to highlight Greeley Elementary, 832 W. Sheridan Rd., a Blue-Ribbon School. Coincidentally, Spellings was back again in December to celebrate the success of Chicago TAP.
Based on the success of turnaround efforts at Sherman and Harvard elementary schools, where staff at low-performing schools are replaced while students remain, CPS undertook a record number of turnarounds in 2008: four high schools and four elementary schools. Two of the high schools, Harper and Orr, are each being turned around at the same time as two of their feeder elementary schools.
“The need for change in these schools is urgent,” Duncan said. “We can’t wait to provide better education options for our children. We have to find a way to do it now.”
Turnarounds were only part of the story for the record 34 new schools this year. CPS also opened five new elementary magnet schools—Disney II, 3815 N. Kedvale Ave.; LaSalle II, 1148 N. Honore St.; Sir Miles Davis, 6730 S. Paulina Ave.; Kershaw, 6450 S. Lowe Ave.; and Oscar Mayer, 2250 N. Clifton Ave.—and a new regional gifted center at Coonley, 4046 N. Leavitt St..
The district has worked hard at improving teacher quality, and a study released in June by the Illinois Education Research Council indicated that those efforts are paying off. “Chicago, especially, has made remarkable progress in bolstering the caliber of its teaching force,” stated the report, titled, “Leveling Up: Narrowing the Teacher Academic Capital Gap in Illinois.”
“The district has shown that not only is it possible to improve teacher quality, but that by hiring new teachers who have strong academic characteristics, it is possible to do so over a relatively short period of time.” The number of teacher vacancies in CPS at the start of the school year hit an all-time low of three percent.
A record percentage of CPS graduates from the class of 2007 enrolled in college the subsequent fall: 50 percent, compared to 43.5 percent from the class of 2004, the first year CPS began tracking enrollment. The graduating class of 2008 also earned a record $157 million in competitive college scholarships.
Even with these successes, CPS’ Department of College and Career Preparation continues to push forward with new programs aimed at getting more students enrolled in college. Spring break 2008 saw the department’s first Spring Break College Tours, which sent ten busloads of students to visit colleges from the Ivy League to the Chicago area. It also opened College and Career Centers in 64 high schools across the city, staffed with counselors other department staff and equipped with computers, printers and college applications and information. The department also continued its efforts to improve student completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
CPS’ Office of High School Programs also continued to work at addressing the dropout problem. The office created a new program called Graduation Pathways, focused both on identifying and helping at-risk students, particularly freshmen, before they drop out and helping those who have left the system to return and pursue their diploma.
Toward the first goal, Graduation Pathways established Freshman On-Track Labs in selected schools, with full-time staff to help freshmen make the transition to high school and improve academic performance and attendance. Each school also receives a “freshman watchlist” identifying students who may need extra help to stay on-track. The district also unveiled Freshman Connection, a voluntary summer program for rising ninth-graders, encompassing academic and recreational activities and held at the students’ destination high schools. In addition, students had a chance to visit their new schools as eighth-graders during High School Investigation Day.
CPS also launched a pilot program allowing high school students to recover credits online over the summer.
The YES (Youth Engaged in Schools) Initiative is another element of Graduation Pathways, focused on reducing youth involvement in gangs and supporting students who are re-entering CPS from juvenile detention facilities.
The district provided more opportunities for its youngest students this year, announcing 1,500 additional pre-school slots.
CPS’ attendance incentives, including a raffle for a car, helped boost attendance for the spring. More than 85,000 students had perfect attendance from March 1 through April 30: more than four times the number for the same period in 2007. That momentum carried over into the 2008-09 school year; the first day of school saw a record-high attendance of 93.7 percent.
Along with keeping more students in the classroom, CPS also worked to enhance what those students learned there. Federal grant money and a reallocation of CPS funds allowed the district to expand its language programs in Arabic, Chinese and Russian. A district-wide algebra program ensured that more teachers are certified to teach high-school level algebra to middle-grade students, while also ensuring that only those students who are prepared to take the course early are able to do so.
Challenges remained, however. The ongoing school funding crisis led to the first rescheduling of a Chicago Board of Education meeting, moved from Wednesday, May 28 to Monday, June 2, enabling Duncan and Board President Rufus Williams to travel to Springfield to urge legislators to pass a responsible education budget. Their efforts were successful, but a long-term solution remains elusive. The district held an end-of-year rally June 10 at Soldier Field, which thousands of students attended, focusing on school funding and violence prevention.
The district continued with efforts to reach out to the larger community. Its successful Principal for a Day program marked its 10th year with more than 1,400 volunteer principals, and its offshoot, Teacher for a Day, expanded from a pilot with 60 participants to 428 “teachers” systemwide. CPS became the first large urban district to launch a website for alumni, www.CPSalumni.org , which won an award from the Web Marketing Association, and also launched a new, more parent-friendly main website, www.cps.edu.
One of the final highlights of the year was Duncan’s selection as Secretary of Education under President-elect Barack Obama, which Duncan considered, “a reflection on all of us—our hard work, our teamwork, our willingness to take risks and make tough decisions, our ability to listen and analyze things in a thoughtful and open-minded way, to change course when needed, and to build on what’s working. But most of all, it’s a reflection of our commitment to making a difference in kids’ lives through their education.”
“Arne Duncan and his team deserve credit for providing the leadership to implement these commitments and to keep student progress going year after year,” Mayor Daley said. “I’d like to thank Arne for his commitment to our children and to improving their education. We wish him the very best in his new job as the nation’s next Secretary of Education.”