What’s better and what’s not

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In 1995, Catalyst Chicago reported that Mayor Richard M. Daley and his takeover team had used their new power over the city’s public schools to fix budget deficits, pay for teacher raises, build new schools and launch new programs—all during the summer break.

“What a difference three months make,” Catalyst observed. Fast forward to today. How much of a difference have 10 years made?

Signs of progress abound, for sure. As the numbers in this district report card will show, test scores are up, high school graduation rates are up, first-year teachers are less likely to leave and new schools are popping up all over town. In some areas, more middle-class families are enrolling their children—a trend that has long topped the mayor’s wish list.

But the burning question is: Have those years made enough of a difference? Teacher turnover in high-poverty schools is getting worse. One of every three high school students drops out. More than half of all children still do not meet academic standards.

Simply put, we’ve got a long, long way to go. On the nation’s only common measure of school performance, low-income students in seven urban districts outscored Chicago.

With so many programs spread over hundreds of schools each—reading coaches, probation sanctions, half-day preschools, high school redesign, Renaissance 2010— it is difficult to see where Chicago Public Schools will gain traction in the years ahead.

Chicago might be further along if, like Boston, it concentrated on improving smaller groups of schools, turning them into models that others would emulate. In school reform, quality is what counts.

To order copies of the Report Card, contact Maribell Ruiz at (312) 673-3866 or ruiz@catalyst-chicago.org.