I rarely pass up the chance to sing the praises of the students, teachers and administrators in Chicago Public Schools. I find it especially gratifying when others are singing along with me. 

A just-released report from Advance Illinois, an independent, nonpartisan, research and advocacy organization, found our district made significant progress in raising achievement and graduation rates over the past 10 years. In fact, the report, “The State We’re In: A Report Card on Public Education in Illinois,” found CPS’ gains outpaced state gains between 2003 to 2013. 

“This remarkable success shows that when district and school leaders attack persistent problems strategically, guided by research, data and best practices, they can make headway,” the report said regarding the district’s rising graduation and freshmen pass rates. 

Mayor Emanuel and I, as well as all who work in Chicago Public Schools, are gratified but not surprised by those words. We have been singing about our remarkable progress for some time. Test scores and attendance are up and our graduation rate topped 69 percent — an incredible improvement over a rate that hovered around 50 percent just 10 years ago. The University of Chicago reported that 82 percent of freshmen are on track to graduate high school.

As the Advance Illinois report notes, this kind of progress does not occur by accident. Our education investments have helped drive our academic gains.

Over the last three years, we made investments in early childhood education for our youngest learners and now all children in our district have equitable access to full-day kindergarten.  

Additionally, Mayor Emanuel has committed to expand free pre-kindergarten opportunities for every 4-year-old from a low-income family. Kindergarten literacy assessments confirmed what we already knew: students who attended a district pre-kindergarten program are better prepared for kindergarten. 

And this preparation pays dividends, as every child in every school now has access to a full school day and a full school year, receiving an additional 2½ years of instructional time from kindergarten through high school graduation. 

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