Citywide Education Progress Report


Key Takeaways: June 2018

Chicago can be proud of increased student performance: according to research lead by Stanford professor Sean Reardon, Chicago students are learning at faster rate than 96% of school districts in the country. Janice Jackson, a previous Chicago Public Schools (CPS) student, teacher, principal, and administrator, was tapped to serve as CEO in 2018. The system is giving more decisionmaking authority to individual schools, developing strong school leader pipelines, and has introduced a unified information and enrollment system for all public high schools in Chicago. But the city must remain focused on elevating voices of underrepresented communities in the system, planning for quality schools in every neighborhood, and providing better transportation options.


System Reforms

Is the education system
continuously improving?

Right leaders Good  
Equitable funding Good  
Right teachers Developing

Is the education strategy
rooted in the community?

City engages families Good
System is responsive Good
Broad support Good
Variety of groups Developing

Do students have access
a high-quality education?

Families have information Good
Enrollment is working Good
Array of school models Developing
Strategic school supply Developing
Transportation is working Little in Place

Each indicator is scored with a rubric on a 4-point scale. We added the scores for the indicators to get an overall goal score. An arrow shows increase or decrease from the 2017 score.

Looking Deeper

Challenges Ahead

► Building a citywide plan for a dynamic school system

Education leaders are rightsizing Chicago Public Schools (CPS) by consolidating underenrolled schools at shared campuses and not opening new district schools. However, CPS must ensure that families have access to good options in their own neighborhoods. This is a critical need, given the lack of free transportation to all choice schools. Leaders should leverage collaborative structures, like the Chicago District-Charter Collaboration Compact, to develop a vision for the city’s portfolio of schools. CPS and the charter sector should coordinate on citywide facilities planning, and use performance and enrollment data to identify where quality seats are lacking and where the market is already saturated. Education leaders should encourage applications from charter schools whose models reflect family needs and can open in the neighborhoods that most need them.

► Improving transit options

Chicago education and civic leaders should identify what improvements could be made to the current transportation policy, which only ensures free transportation to students attending choice schools in their neighborhood, or some magnets. A free transit pass could be a good start for older students, but district and charter leaders could also explore options to share the costs of expanding bus services or work toward a bus circulator system like Denver’s “Success Express.”

► Proactively seeking input from underrepresented communities

Good processes are currently in place for families to shape school-level policy. Additionally, CPS involves the community on school consolidations and openings, but decisions are usually made at the central office. However, there are groups whose voices are missing, especially when providing input on systemwide issues such as the district budget. For example, despite a growing Hispanic demographic presence in the city, there is reportedly little representation from the this community, and few grassroots organizations are working to elevate parent concerns. Philanthropy can help build capacity among existing leaders and organizations from underrepresented communities. Education leaders should also make sure to report back to the community how their input was incorporated in systemwide initiatives or explain why it wasn’t.


Chicago Students’ Dramatic Gains Analyzed by Researchers

Research led by Stanford Professor Sean Reardon and released in late 2017 found that Chicago students have been making some of the most dramatic gains in the country. Based on state test data of district and charter students from 2009 to 2014:

  • Chicago students’ performance grew faster than 96% of ALL school districts in the United States.
  • Chicago has the highest growth rate between 3rd and 8th grades among the 100 largest districts.
  • Each new CPS class outperforms the prior class and improves at a rate much higher than the national average.

Compared to the national average, “that’s like an extra year of schooling squeezed in somehow between 3rd and 8th grade” said Reardon (Chicago Sun-Times, Nov. 2, 2017).

The system has a commitment to data and research: the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research tracks student performance in great detail and is seeing similar trends. Director Elaine Allensworth says the performance could result from a number of factors, including serious use of the Common Core, a commitment to school autonomy along with a willingness to close bad schools, strong charter management organizations, and district network leaders (principal supervisors) that have learned to work for schools rather than impose their own mandates.

District and Charter Leaders Collaborate to Align Performance Standards, Unify Enrollment

The divide between district and charter schools is a central issue in a number of cities, including Chicago. Yet leaders in Chicago often showed a commitment to rise above turf wars to find solutions for the pressing issues facing the school system. The city’s District-Charter Collaboration Compact made concrete policy changes, more than any other city with a formal collaborative effort.

Between 2011 and 2017, the Compact team successfully advocated for a more equitable distribution of funds to district and charter schools, worked together to support personalized learning, and developed the unified enrollment system.

One of the most significant wins was the development of aligned performance standards through the School Quality Rating Policy, which uses academic and school climate indicators. This information is now available in GoCPS—a consolidated school guide—so families can easily compare school options.

Student and School Outcomes

Chicago schools are showing improvement, but there is still work to be done. Over four years, math and reading proficiency rates have shown statistically significant improvement, and graduation rates gained on the state. However, both areas remained below state averages. Low-income students in the city are performing slightly better on state assessments than their peers nationally. However, black students had disproportionately low enrollment in high school advanced math coursework.

► Between 2011-12 and 2014-15, the reading proficiency rate gap between the city and state was closing.

► In 2013-14, white students were enrolling in high school advanced math coursework at rates above their enrollment, while black students had disproportionately low enrollment.

Data are for all charter and district schools within the municipal boundary. Performance data from Illinois State Board of Education and math enrollment data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, Civil Rights Data Collection. See Methodology & Resources for more detail.


About Chicago

Over the past several years, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has devolved authority to schools while raising standards and student achievement. Funds are distributed to district schools on a per-pupil basis, autonomous leaders are supported through an Independent School Principals program, and Local School Councils drive school-level decisions. Janice Jackson, who attended CPS and then served as teacher, network chief, and chief education officer, became chief executive officer in 2018.

School Choice in the City

Families attending district schools choose among schools in their neighborhood. The majority (but not all) of traditional public schools allow students living outside the neighborhood to apply and are admitted based on a lottery system. The district also has magnet and selective admission schools. Charter schools offer open enrollment across the city using lottery systems.

Governance Model

Chicago Public Schools has been under mayoral control since 1995. The seven-member Board of Education is appointed by the mayor. Most Chicago charter schools are authorized by CPS. Six are authorized by the Illinois State Charter School Commission.

2017 District and Charter Student Body

Enrollment: 381,349 students
Race and ethnicity: 47% Hispanic, 38% black, 10% white, 5% other
Low-income: 78% free and reduced-price lunch

2017 School Composition 

Note: Enrollment and demographics data for CPS and CPS-authorized charter schools only.
Source: Chicago Public Schools, 2016.
School data from researcher analysis of public records, 2016-17.

The Center on Reinventing Public Education is a research and policy analysis center at the University of Washington Bothell developing systemwide solutions for K–12 public education. Questions? Email