History of Chicago Public Schools

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1837

Chicago becomes official with its first city charter.

1854

John Dore, a Boston teacher and principal, becomes Chicago’s first school superintendent.

1870

Public school enrollment stands at more than 27,000 students.

1872

Illinois creates the Chicago Board of Education. Members will be appointed by the mayor to oversee the city’s public education system.

1897

The Chicago Teachers Federation (CTF) is formed to advocate on behalf of teachers. It would become the Chicago Teachers Union 40 years later.

1900

Chicago’s public school population is overcrowded with 250,000 students and 5,000 teachers.

1917

The Otis Law is enacted, creating tenure for Illinois teachers.

1918

Chicago Public Schools enrollment rises to 400,000.

Late 1920s – Early 1930s

Excessive borrowing worsens a fiscal crisis during the Great Depression. Teachers protest the large budget cuts made by the School Board.

1955

Richard J. Daley is elected mayor of Chicago and will hold the position until his death in 1976.

Late 1950s

Technology advances enter the classroom and Chicago schools now have projectors, microscopes and early computer kits.

1960

The African-American population in Chicago now makes up 25 percent of the city, but racial segregation is high, and much of the South and West sides have become densely populated, marginalized, low-income areas.

Chicago Schools Supt. Benjamin Willis uses portable buildings, commonly referred to as “Willis Wagons,” to relieve overcrowding in African-American schools rather than enrolling the students in largely white schools nearby, causing widespread protests.

1966

Supt. Willis resigns. James Redmond, former head of the New Orleans public school system, takes over and begins plans to integrate Chicago’s schools, which is met with fierce opposition from the Northwest and Southwest sides.

1969

Teachers go on strike for the first time.

1976

Mayor Daley dies, and Ald. Michael Bilandic becomes mayor.

1979

Through mismanagement, CPS plunges into a fiscal crisis, including payless pay days.

The state legislature creates the Chicago School Finance Authority to oversee spending and mandates the replacement of all Chicago School Board members.

Jane Byrne becomes Chicago’s first and only female mayor.

1980

The white population in Chicago Public Schools has fallen by 60 percent since 1970 as many white families flee the city to the suburbs or enroll their children in private schools.

The Chicago Board of Education and the Justice Department sign a school desegregation consent decree.

1981

Chicago United, the city’s racially integrated business organization, issues a harsh report and recommendations for streamlining CPS operation.

1983

Illinois Sen. Harold Washington is elected as Chicago’s first African-American mayor.

Chicago teachers strike for 15 days, leading to a 5 percent salary increase and a 2.5 percent bonus.

1984

In late November and early December, public school teachers go on strike for 10 days, leading to a 4.5 percent salary increase.

1985

The nonprofits Designs for Change and the Chicago Panel on School Policy and Finance grab headlines with highly critical reports on school dropouts and truancy.

1986

Mayor Washington creates an education summit, tapping 35 school, civic, business and university leaders to draft “contracts” outlining actions to improve the education and employment of young Chicagoans.

1987

In September and October, teachers strike for a record 19 days, the 9th strike since 1969. Many groups organize protests, including a march on City Hall. Mayor Washington calls for a mass brainstorming session, which was attended by some 1,000 people, appoints a 50-member Parent and Community Council and expands his Education Summit.

In early November, U.S. Sec. of Education Secretary William Bennett calls Chicago Schools the worst school system in the country.

On Nov. 26, Mayor Washington dies unexpectedly of a heart attack. Vice-Mayor David Orr takes over briefly. On Dec. 2, Ald. Eugene Sawyer becomes mayor.

The late Mayor Washington’s summit crafts a reform plan that is ultimately transformed into state law.

1988

Corporate and community leaders lobby for the school reform bill in Springfield and the Illinois Legislature passes the Chicago School Reform Act. The act creates local school councils with key powers, including the selection of principals, the approval of school budgets and the approval of annual school improvement plans.

With the passage of the act, an era of intense reform begins, and foundation donations to education increase dramatically. The law also expanded the Board of Education to 15 seats and created a School Board Nominating Commission with seats for 23 parents and community members and five members appointed by the mayor.

1989

The first Local School Council elections are held, with 227,622 voters weighing in on 17,256 candidates competing for 5,420 seats. With non-citizens having the right to vote and serve on LSCs, Hispanics rally around the new law. But African-American leadership is divided, with some calling it school deform.

Richard M. Daley, Cook County State’s attorney and son of the late mayor, Richard J. Daley, is elected mayor, a post he will keep for 22 years. He will be Chicago’s longest serving mayor, going one year longer than his father.

1990

The white population in Chicago Public Schools continues to drop and has fallen by 50 percent since 1980.

Ted Kimbrough, former superintendent of schools in Compton, California, becomes superintendent of Chicago Public Schools.

The University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research is created to analyze school reform efforts.

Catalyst Chicago, the news magazine specializing in independent reporting on Chicago schools, is created and published by the Community Renewal Society as a sister publication to The Chicago Reporter.

1991

Following a drop in philanthropic support, the second LSC election sees a large decrease in the number of candidates running, with 8,173 contenders and the number of voters, at 161,000.

1993

Argie Johnson, a New York City school administrator, is named superintendent.

1994

Mayor Daley rejects all School Board nominees proffered by the grassroots-based School Board Nominating Commission.

The Annenberg Foundation makes a five-year, $49.2 million matching grant to Chicago for school-based reform initiatives.

Republicans take control of the Illinois House, Senate and Governor’s office.

1995

The GOP in Springfield passes the Chicago School Reform Amendatory Act, effectively reversing the decentralization ushered in by the 1988 reform act.

Local school councils remained, but the Board of Education was reconstituted, and the superintendent was replaced by a chief executive officer. The law gives the mayor power to appoint School Board members directly and strengthens school accountability measures, trims union bargaining rights, mandates the training of local school councils and takes the strings off substantial amounts of money.

Mayor Daley names his budget director, Paul Vallas, as the first CPS CEO and his chief of staff, Gery Chico, as the Board president.

Able to use previously restricted money, the board balances the budget, signs a four-year teacher contract and launches new programs. It also begins a massive school rehabilitation and construction program.

1996

The board approves a new student promotion policy based on test scores.

CPS CEO Vallas places 109 schools on academic probation, curtailing the authority of their LSCs.

The state legislature passes the Illinois Charter School Law, which approves the creation of charter schools in Illinois: 15 in Chicago, 15 in the suburbs and 15 downstate.

1997

A mandatory summer school program called Summer Bridge is created and 22,000 3rd-, 6th- and 8th- grade students who do not meet test scores requirements are enrolled.

Staff at seven high schools are dismissed as part of a reconstitution initiative. The program goes poorly and is quickly abandoned.

CEO Paul Vallas selects 14 neighborhood high schools to join Lincoln Park High School in the International Baccalaureate Organization.

The first charter schools open in Chicago. They are the Academy of Communications and Technology, ACORN, Chicago Preparatory, Perspectives Charter School, Chicago International Charter School, Triumphant Charter School, and Youth Connection Charter School.

1998

President Clinton praises Chicago’s accountability program in his State of the Union address.

Several more charter schools open in Chicago, including the first campus of the University of Chicago Charter Schools network and the first UNO Charter School.

1999

The first campus of the Noble Network of Charter Schools opens in Chicago.

2000

CPS raises the bar for academic probation and tries another get-tough strategy with low-scoring high schools, intervention, which is later abandoned.

Chicago’s charter school count rises to 16, but with the state legislative charter cap at 15, two charter schools, Passages and the Choir Academy, merge into one, the Global Village Academy.

2001

With Mayor Daley showing displeasure over a dip in test scores, School Board President Gery Chico resigns, followed by CEO Paul Vallas.

Mayor Daley selects a mid-level administrator, Arne Duncan, to become the CPS CEO.

CPS launches the Chicago Reading Initiative, dispatching reading specialists to 114 schools where at least two-thirds of students read below grade level.

Parents in Little Village conduct a successful 19-day hunger strike to get a long-promised high school built in their community, resulting in the Little Village Lawndale High School Campus.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation makes its first grant to Chicago schools and nonprofits, principally to create charters and reform high schools. The investment would top $86 million by 2008.

2002

President George W. Bush signs the No Child Left Behind Act with bipartisan Congressional support; it requires states to show steady student progress.

CPS announces the closing of three chronically failing elementary schools – Terrell, Williams and Dodge – along with plans to re-open Williams and Dodge as revamped “Renaissance Schools” in fall 2003.

2003

CPS agrees to postpone closing schools with poor academic performance, striking a deal with the Chicago Teachers Union to provide extra money and support at 10 struggling schools.

The state charter law is amended to increase the state charter school cap to 60, adding 15 more charter schools for Chicago, for a total of 30.

The KIPP and ASPIRA charter school networks open their first Chicago schools.

2004

Mayor Daley announces Renaissance 2010, his plan to close dozens of poorly performing schools and create 100 new ones, most of them charter and contract schools, by 2010. Activists gear up for battle, citing lack of community and parent input into the sweeping proposal.

2005

The Illinois Facilities Fund reports that five communities of the West and South sides have the greatest need for schools that meet strong academic standards: South Shore, Greater Grand Crossing, Austin, Washington Park and Brighton Park.

2006

Gov. Blagojevich signs a new universal preschool law, offering free, state-funded preschool, in principle, to all Illinois children, regardless of family income.

The Consortium on Chicago School Research reports that only 45 percent of CPS graduates earn a post-secondary degree. Among all CPS high school students, only 8 percent will receive bachelor’s degrees by age 25.

CPS wins a $27.5 million federal grant to launch a pilot merit-pay program in 40 low-performing schools. Designed with the help of CPS teachers, the plan features additional professional development and a career ladder for teachers who want to stay in the classroom.

Sherman Elementary School is the first to undergo CPS’ new turn-around strategy, where students stay at a school, and new leadership and staff are brought in.

2007

Although CPS is approaching its Renaissance 2010 goal of opening 100 new schools, neighborhoods identified as most in need of new schools still have not gotten them.

2009

President Barack Obama selects CPS CEO Arne Duncan as his Secretary of Education.

Mayor Daley’s hand-picked school board chooses Ron Huberman, former CTA president, to succeed Arne Duncan as CPS CEO.

Teachers at the Chicago International Charter School Network sign Chicago’s first charter school union contract.

The Consortium on Chicago School Research reports that students from top CPS high schools, like Whitney Young and Lane Tech, are attending colleges far below their qualifications. The CCSR says that complicated college application processes, hard-to-navigate financial aid systems, and the lack of college guidance counselors may be the source of this problem.

The state charter law is amended to increase the state charter school cap to 120, allowing for 70 schools in Chicago. Now, 50 percent of teachers in a Chicago charter school must be certified, and by the school’s fourth year, 75 percent must be certified.

President Obama enacts his Race to the Top initiative, which allots over $4 billion for states that meet the ambitious new teacher evaluation requirements.

2010

Chief Education Officer Barbara Eason-Watkins resigns to become the superintendent of schools in Michigan City, Indiana.

Karen Lewis defeats the incumbent president of the Chicago Teachers Union, spawning a new era of union activism and community organizing.

Ron Huberman steps down, and Mayor Daley names Terry Mazany, president and CEO of The Chicago Community Trust, to serve as interim CPS CEO.

Illinois adopts the Common Core learning standards, which detail what students nationwide should learn in each grade.

2011

Rahm Emanuel is elected mayor of Chicago, following the decision of Mayor Richard M. Daley not to seek re-election.

Mayor Emanuel chooses Jean-Claude Brizard, the superintendent of schools in Rochester, New York, to become the CPS CEO. In a first, the mayor’s office also chooses the CEO’s leadership team.

Amid a sustained push to lengthen Chicago’s school day, one of the shortest in the nation, six Chicago public schools extend their school day by 90 minutes.

2012

CPS lengthens the elementary school day to seven hours, and the high school day to seven and a half hours, with an early dismissal one day per week.

The Chicago Teachers Union goes out on strike for the first time in 25 years. The State Legislature had set a high bar, requiring 75 percent of members to authorize a strike. Angry over unilateral actions by Mayor Emanuel, more than 90 percent of membership voted to authorize a strike.

After 17 months on the job, CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard announces his resignation, saying that he and the mayor had come to a “mutual agreement” that it was time to go.

Barbara Byrd-Bennett succeeds Brizard as CPS CEO. She was working under contract with CPS and had been the chief academic and accountability manager for Detroit Public Schools and the superintendent of schools in Cleveland and Brooklyn, New York.

2013

CPS switches to student-based budgeting, which provides a certain amount of money for every student enrolled at a school rather than paying for teaching positions at the school. Coming in hard financial times, this new flexibility puts principals in the position of deciding what to cut at their schools.

CPS closes 49 elementary schools, the most ever, touching off a firestorm of protests and putting 3,000 CPS teachers out of a job.

2014

In January, the Board of Education passes a physical education policy that triples the amount of time elementary school students spend exercising and requires high school students to receive physical education daily.

The Board of Education approves seven new charter schools for Chicago.

In March, the entire staff at three West and South Side public schools are fired in a turn-around effort. Control of the schools is given to the Academy for Urban School Leadership, a private nonprofit that manages 29 schools in Chicago and operates much like a charter school network.

An arts advocacy organization reveals that less than a quarter of CPS elementary schools meet the district’s recommended two hours of weekly arts instruction.

With a financial crisis bearing down, CPS lays off 550 teachers and 600 school staff in June.

Mayor Emanuel announces that a new selective enrollment school will be built on the Near North Side to honor President Obama. Following criticism from leaders in other sectors of the city, he withdraws the name but maintains plans for the new school.

In October, CTU president Karen Lewis drops her plans to run against Mayor Emanuel in the upcoming mayoral election after being diagnosed with a brain tumor. CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey informally assumes her role as she seeks treatment.

The Illinois State Board of Education releases test scores showing that just over half of Illinois public elementary school students are proficient in math and reading. The goal under No Child Left Behind was 100 percent.  No state met the goal.

2015

Illinois replaces the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) for elementary school students and the Prairie State Achievement Exam (PSAE) for high school students with the computer-based PARCC exam, which is aligned to Common Core standards. In a protest over excessive testing, one of every 10 CPS students skipped the new PARCC assessment, with higher numbers at selective enrollment schools, some Hispanic high schools and affluent elementary schools.

Mayor Emanuel is re-elected in an April run-off election against Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.

In April, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett requests a leave of absence as a federal investigation over a $20 million no-bid school contract becomes public. The School Board awarded the contract to the SUPES Academy, where Byrd-Bennett once worked as a consultant. In June, she resigns, and School Board Vice President Jesse Ruiz steps in as interim CEO.

During his stint as interim CEO, Jesse Ruiz ordered a district-wide audit of services for English-language learners to ensure students are receiving what they’re entitled to under state and federal law. The audit is tackling a long-standing issue that has plagued the district for decades.

In late July, Mayor Emanuel appoints Forrest Claypool, his new chief of staff and former Chicago Transit Authority president, as the new CPS CEO, and Frank Clark, chairman of the executive committee of The Chicago Community Trust, as the new School Board president, replacing David Vitale.

Janice Jackson, a new network chief who was principal at Westinghouse and Al Raby high schools, becomes chief education officer.

In October, Byrd-Bennett pleads guilty to one felony count of fraud in connection with the SUPES Academy corruption scandal. Prosecutors indicted her the previous  week on 20 counts, but as part of the agreement, which includes her promise to cooperate on further cases, they will drop the remaining charges.

The Chicago Teachers Union contract expired in July. In December, members voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike.  The district extended a serious offer immediately after the authorization vote, and CEO Forrest Claypool promised no second-semester layoffs if a multi-year deal is reached in January.

Shortly after approving a new, tougher accountability policy for charter schools, the School Board voted to shutter four underperforming charter schools, all of which are on the South Side. The schools contested the decision, saying it was unfair that they were being closed under a policy they had known little about and as they were taking steps to improve.

Check out Catalyst’s picks for the top 15 education stories in 2015, including CPS responses to our investigative reporting.