This week, we had the opportunity to welcome students across Chicago back to school. We were delighted by the palpable excitement and optimism in the air. There are countless reasons for this optimism, thanks to the hard of work of students, educators, families and communities — but here is our Top 10 list of reasons to be excited about the future of CPS:
1. Last school year, CPS students achieved a record-high graduation rate of 77.5 percent. The district-wide graduation rate has grown twice as fast in the past six years as in the preceding 12 years. What’s more, CPS’ graduation rate is growing at triple the rate of the national average. African-American males — our largest single group of graduates — led this increase by improving their graduation rate by 5.4 points this year.
2. Our strongest single predictor of future graduation, the freshman on-track rate, reached a record-high 88.7 percent. This encouraging signal is indicative of the success of CPS students today and the promising future for students in the nation’s third-largest school district.
3. Last year CPS students earned a record $1.3 billion in college scholarships. Not only are more students than ever graduating high school and enrolling in two- and four-year college programs, Chicago’s students are being rewarded for their academic achievements with a historic high amount of scholarship dollars.
4. CPS reading scores have reached record highs. More Chicago elementary school students than ever before are meeting or exceeding national standards for reading. A record 61.3 percent of students met or exceeded the national average, representing a 34.6 percent increase since 2013. CPS fourth graders achieved the third highest reading growth in the nation.
5. Math scores at Chicago Public Schools are also at historic highs: 55.9 percent of CPS elementary school students are meeting and exceeding the national average for math, and eighth graders achieved the greatest growth in math scores of any urban district in the country.
6. We are making progress in closing the achievement gap. The number of African-American and Hispanic students on track to graduate has increased by 28 percent, while English Language Learners narrowed the achievement gap by 48 percent in math and 28 percent in reading. While we still have work to do in this area, the narrowing achievement gap is an important sign of progress.
7. Independent academic studies, including from Stanford University, the University of Chicago, and University of Illinois-Chicago have confirmed that Chicago Public Schools is leading the country for academic growth among large urban school systems. Of note, UIC released a study that found that low income, minority students at CPS fare better than their peers in the Chicago region and downstate.
8. Chicago Public Schools is home to three of the 10 best public high schools in the United States, and seven of the ten best public schools in the state of Illinois.
9. Chicago is home to the largest International Baccalaureate program in North America and an ever-expanding number of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) schools and programs. These proven programs are helping more students graduate, with 83.2 percent of students at wall-to-wall IB schools earning a diploma and 85.7 percent at STEM schools.
10. Last year, the number of CPS students earning early college and career credentials increased for the fourth consecutive year to a record 43.4 percent. Mayor Emanuel has set the goal of half of all CPS students attaining college credit while they are still in high school by 2019, and we are on track to meet that ambitious objective. Meanwhile, the University of Chicago found that 42 percent of CPS graduates enroll in a 4-year college, roughly equal to the national average even though the CPS student body is more than 80 percent low income and minority.
The beginning of a new school year represents not just a fresh start for students, but a time to take stock of where we are as a district today and to look to the future. While we have much work ahead of us, the optimism and excitement in the air at Chicago Public Schools during this first week of school is grounded in a record of real results. Everyone in Chicago can and should be proud.
Forrest Claypool is CEO and Janice Jackson is chief education officer of Chicago Public Schools.
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