School autonomy all over the map

Driven by a belief in school choice, Chicago has created a layered cake of autonomy and accountability that has educators feeling their way and anxious about what’s next. Results are unclear. Download the complete report [PDF]

WebExtra: Campaign seeks $4 billion for schools

Education funding reformers in Illinois are eternal optimists, seeing every legislative session as their big chance to dramatically increase state funding of public schools. This year, though, there is reason to believe they may actually pull it off. Activists and lawmakers say this is the year school finance reform will happen, despite Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s vow not to raise general taxes.

District amps up autonomy

An elite group of schools may be the first to order from a new menu of district services purchased a la carte. Per-pupil funding, derailed this year, gets a green light for fall 2007.

Performance, not perks, is what autonomy should be about

Mayor Daley and Schools CEO Arne Duncan talk a good game about empowering principals to do what it takes to improve student performance. But you’ve got to wonder whether they really believe school autonomy is a remedy for struggling schools. Take a look at which principals have significant freedom and you’ll find there are precious few.

New schools on chopping block

In 2003, Chicago launched an unprecedented experiment in high school reform by opening two tiny schools modeled after a successful yet unconventional program in Rhode Island that scraps regular classes in favor of independent projects and internships. But this brief excursion on the uncharted waters of school autonomy proved too much for the district to stomach.

Big changes in the Big Apple

Internships and independent study replace courses at two avant-guarde high schools, which are testing the limits of school autonomy in Chicago. (See story)

Principals in New York City get a shot at more autonomy to run their schools as part of an ambitious plan to jumpstart student achievement. More sweeping than similar plans in Chicago, some question whether New York schools are getting too much freedom too quickly.


A collection of facts, figures, and news briefs about school reform—both in Chicago and around the country.

Principals get creative within the bounds of district bureaucracy

While charter and AMPS schools operate with varying degrees of autonomy, scattered around the city are regular public schools that have managed to carve out freedoms of their own. Catalyst Chicago talked to three principals who have developed creative strategies to improve their schools, with innovative curricula, outside partnerships and private fundraising.

Q&A with Greg Richmond

School districts, state boards of education and other entities that authorize charter schools have the critical task of deciding how much autonomy to grant charters—and sometimes that means less freedom, not more, says Greg Richmond, who spearheaded the charter movement in Chicago Public Schools. He resigned two years ago to head a national group of institutions that approve and oversee charters. Richmond talked with Associate Editor Sarah Karp about the lessons learned from the charter movement.

Comings and Goings

REN 2010 WATCH It’s been three years since Mayor Daley announced his landmark effort to open 100 new schools in six years, and the district is closing in on the halfway mark. Forty-three new schools have opened so far, and another 19 have been approved to open this fall or next year. Yet one prototype Renaissance school—KIPP Youth Village Academy—has already bitten the dust, and two outside-the-box high schools are on the chopping block. Big Picture Back of the Yards and Big Picture Bronzeville, which opened in 2003, may be shut down for low performance.

Join the club

Strong test scores and clean financial audits are essential for schools to be eligible for AMPS. But for the last two years, candidates had to clear another hurdle: Getting the blessing of their area instructional officer. That’s going to change.

Waxing and waning in CPS

Control over school resources has seesawed between schools and central office since the watershed Reform Act of 1988. CPS now gives “star principals” more freedom while tightening the screws on struggling schools.