I’m often asked — by friends, television hosts, people I’ve just met — whether Chicago’s public schools have gotten any better after decades of reform. I know they’d like a simple yes or no, but I find neither satisfying. Rather, it’s been more like yes and no, or two steps forward, one step back.
Of the all the reforms that have swept through Chicago Public Schools in the past 25 years, the creation of local school councils is one of the few that persists. Although their authority has been curtailed over the years and not all new or struggling schools have them, the councils in many ways continue to deliver on the initial vision of allowing parents and community members to be catalysts for change at their schools.
Sabrina Jackson says she never really wanted to send her children anywhere but the school down the street, Perkins Bass Elementary. “They say churches can be a stabilizing force in a neighborhood, but schools are too, especially if they’ve been in the neighborhood forever,” says Jackson, whose four children have or are currently attending Bass.
In the past two and a half decades, the number and types of schools in the Chicago Public Schools have risen dramatically even as enrollment has declined. The face of the student body and teaching corps has undergone significant change. And although the system still lags behind the state on many measures, CPS has seen improved test scores and rising high school and college graduation rates.