For far too long, the conversation about Chicago Public Schools has focused on politics and budgets. This has masked the real story: the extraordinary improvements of our schools and success of our students. This is a story that can make all Chicagoans proud — and as talk of a possible strike heats up in the coming days and weeks — it is this record of student achievement that should unite all of us in common cause.
The highest collective ACT scores in Chicago history. The lowest rate of suspensions and expulsions since we’ve been keeping track. Dramatic improvements in elementary math and reading that leaves the rest of the country well behind us. These are just a few of the successes outlined in our first-ever district-wide Academic Progress Report.
This isn’t by accident, and it also didn’t happen overnight. Increasingly, Chicago students have strong principals and teachers who are dedicated and bright, and who bring tough subject matters to life. They have teachers who deserve our respect and gratitude.
In the coming days and weeks, when we face many questions about what’s happening, what’s next, and how we can best work together to restore CPS’ long-term stability, we hope that everyone keeps our students’ success at the forefront of those discussions.
In that spirit, we want to highlight a few of the most remarkable accomplishments of Chicago’s children — and educators.
Let’s start with “the Nation’s report card,” or National Assessment of Educational Progress, where CPS students are outpacing their state and national peers in growth for reading and math, and fourth- and eighth-graders are showing some of the largest academic gains in the country. In fact, Chicago was one of only three urban districts to have experienced academic growth in math and reading in both the fourth and eighth grades in 2015.
This success stems from strategic investments expanding early childhood education to the most vulnerable, to a laser focus on math and literacy skills in the early grades.
There’s more good news in our high schools. Less than a decade ago, barely half of CPS students graduated from high school. Today, that number is 73.5 percent – having grown nearly 17 points since 2011 compared with 4 points in the five years prior. In fact, neighborhood high schools led the growth last year. And, working with the University of Chicago on a tool that CPS pioneered — called the Freshman-on-Track rate — Chicago students are positioned do even better in years to come. A record 87.4 percent of our 10th-graders are now on-track to graduate representing a 20 percentage point increase in just the past five years.
Students’ success is about so much more than test scores. There is no question that poverty can create barriers for learning. We are committed to instilling in our students not just the academic basics, but also the emotional tools they need to manage stress and stay focused on education.
We’re also at the national forefront of restorative justice practices, and their results are clear — out-of-school suspensions are down 67 percent in the past four years. Our commitment is to make sure these numbers keep falling, across all demographic groups, and keeping all of our students connected to their school communities.
As District administrators, it is our job to safeguard this progress and help Chicago’s students reach new heights. To do this, we will continue to invest in our students, which means offering teachers the most generous raise we can afford in challenging fiscal times. In schools themselves, we’re embracing a more rigorous curriculum and offering increased opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, International Baccalaureate Programme, AP, and dual credit/dual-enrollment courses, all aimed at giving students the experience they need to be ready for the next steps at college and career.
Amid all this good news, it goes without saying that we have more work to do. While our budget is far more stable than it was a year ago, our financial situation remains precarious, and we must work harder than ever to close the achievement gaps among the most vulnerable student populations. Despite all of this, Chicago’s students have proven their resiliency and an ability to succeed.
There is no question that Chicago’s students are worth investing in, and we look forward to what we’re sure will be another strong school year that will allow Chicago’s students — and teachers — to continue their academic progress with no interruption and the full support they need.
Forrest Claypool is CEO of Chicago Public Schools. Janice Jackson is chief education officer.