Chicago high schools to get $48 million in federal ‘transformation’ funds

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Eight Chicago public high schools are each in line to get $5.6 million
in federal money to use over the next three years for transformation
work from within. Eight Chicago public high schools are each in line to get $5.6 million in federal money to use over the next three years for transformation work from within.

The Illinois State Board of Education, charged with distributing the federal School Improvement Grants, announced the award on Tuesday.  Altogether, CPS will get $47.9 million. Five other districts, including Decatur and Peoria, are splitting another $27 million, according to ISBE spokeswoman Mary Fergus.

School Improvement Grants are designated for the persistently lowest-achieving schools. Of the 46 worst schools in the state, 40 are CPS high schools.

School districts can use the grants to undertake one of three reform efforts: turnaround, which entails replacing most of the staff and administration; restart, which entails handing over management to an outside entity, such as a charter school network; or transformation, in which the school staff works with an outside educational entity to push for change.

For the first time ever, CPS is going to try transformation, widely considered the least drastic of the efforts. In fact, CEO Jean-Claude Brizard has said that he worries about whether the transformation model can work because it is “too much like trying to fix the plane while flying.”

But Don Fraynd, head of the CPS Office of School Improvement, said he thinks the model can work with the particular schools chosen to be part of the effort. The schools—Julian, Kelvyn Park, North Lawndale, Juarez, Hancock, Tilden, Richards and Wells—are not the worst of the worst and they all have relatively new, dynamic principals.

In an ironic twist, four of the schools’ “outside” partner will be the CPS Office of High School Transformation.  Fergus said that the CPS office was vetted by the state just like any outside provider and had to prove that it had success in improving poor-performing schools.

The other schools will work with America’s Choice, which offers materials, professional development and technical assistance, or the Network for College Success, which is sponsored by the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration.  

CPS originated the turnaround concept and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan took that model from Chicago as he designed the School Improvement Grants. But most school districts have veered away from turnaround and have used the transformation model. Only one year into the program, it is not yet clear if transformation can result in any improvement.