Huberman outlines strategies to improve Chicago schools

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Mentoring to curb student shootings, tougher criteria to become a teacher and data, data, data are some highlights from Schools CEO Ron Huberman’s speech Thursday to
a standing-room-only crowd at the City Club, where he outlined his
strategies for improving schools and promised more details in the weeks
to come. Mentoring to curb student shootings, tougher criteria to become a teacher and data, data, data.

Those are highlights from Schools CEO Ron Huberman’s speech Thursday to a standing-room-only crowd at the City Club, where he outlined his strategies for improving schools and promised more details in the weeks to come.

While acknowledging that public schools have a long way to go, Huberman also made clear that “there’s no question there has been progress”—perhaps in response to a Civic Committee ‘report’ that claimed rising test scores are a mirage because state tests were made easier in 2006.

Here’s some of what the new CEO, now seven months on the job, plans to do:

Safety and security: Huberman’s a former police officer, so if there’s one area where his experience ought to pay off, it’s here.

After combing through five years’ worth of data on student shootings, his team came up with a profile of those who are most likely to be victims of shooting: Most are African-American males (something that a review of news reports readily shows) with few credits, a high rate of absenteeism and a greater likelihood of being homeless and in special education. With that profile in mind, officials have identified students they believe are most at-risk; these students will get mentors (paid, not volunteer), support from social workers, and jobs.

“These kids are in trouble, and we need to help them,” Huberman said.

Top-notch teachers, principals: “If I could solve any problem, it would be the principal pipeline,” Huberman said. The district expects about 220 vacancies in the coming year or so, and that’s on top of a wave in retirements in the past couple of years.

So where to find these school leaders? Huberman promised to cast a net nationwide, noting that several of the new chief area officers are from out-of-state. He also called for alternative certification programs to bring in “people who are not necessarily educators, but are change agents.” That could be controversial, given the concerns in some quarters that educators are not getting due respect from the new administration.

Also in the works are higher minimum qualifications for prospective teachers, and a new screening tool to help principals winnow out the best candidates. Although he didn’t give details Thursday, both will be “major initiatives,” Huberman promised.

Data analysis: As we’ve reported, a centerpiece of Huberman’s approach is data analysis, with the goal of getting principals and teachers to use data to drive decision-making. To that end, top administrators in central office, the new cadre of chief area officers, and principals and school staff will be expected to hold weekly meetings to comb through data and figure out next steps to improve student performance. “Those conversations will be a critical lever for improving outcomes,” Huberman maintained.

The data strategy played into budget decisions this year, when the district scrapped programs that, according to internal evaluations, had lackluster results.

As with any program, the devil will be in the details. Catalyst will be following these initiatives as they develop.