Well, since you asked …

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.

Local School Councils: ‘Catalysts for change’

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.

From timid to tough

As with many parent activists, Margarita Vasquez’s involvement in her children’s schooling began slowly with the basics, encouraging them to do their homework, to study and not to drop out, as she had done as a teenager in Mexico City.

All in the family

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.

Twenty-five years by the numbers

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.

‘Considerable unsung progress’

With budget cuts, union discontent and a sizeable list of pernicious problems, the education landscape in Chicago today looks a lot like it did 25 years ago. Yet for all the unsolved challenges that remain, Chicago has also seen considerable unsung progress.

Public schools losing the public?

Does the public have confidence in public education? That’s the foremost question on my mind as Catalyst marks its 25th year reporting on the third-largest school district in the country and the larger national trends shaping public education.

‘In decline since the ’70s’

In a wide-ranging interview earlier this summer for our 25th anniversary issue, Pedro Noguera, a leading national voice on urban education, told Catalyst that these days “education is largely reproducing the inequities in society.”