Citywide Education Progress Report

Key Takeaways: System Reforms

Chicago has strong school leadership development programs and a number of civic, philanthropic, and nonprofit organizations engaged in the education strategy. While there are still gaps in helping families access options, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and the charter sectors just introduced a new unified information and enrollment system, which should help alleviate some barriers. CPS must develop a long-term vision for managing its portfolio of schools. Additionally, the district could provide more opportunities for communities impacted by low-performing schools to give input on system-level changes.


Is the education system continuously improving?


Do schools have the resources they need? School improvement happens at the school level, but making sure resources are available requires sound, citywide policy. Having the right talent in a city is critical for schools to be able to provide students with a quality education. Schools should also have control over their budgets so they have the resources to address the needs of their student population.


► Do schools have the kinds of leaders they need?

Among district schools, Local School Councils—composed of parents and teachers—hire principals that have been vetted by Chicago Public Schools (CPS) staff, which helps address fit between leader and school. The district has a number of preparation programs, including the Chicago Leadership Collaborative and a new Assistant Principals Institute. There are also opportunities for strong school leaders: CPS launched the Master Principal Mentorship program which pairs experienced principals with newer principals. A local group funds a Chicago Principal Fellowship for high-performing principals. In 2017, leaders at some of the larger charter management organizations were just starting to work together on recruitment and preparation efforts. Launched in 2018, the Chicago Principal Partnership is a citywide effort to ensure that every public school in Chicago is led by a strong principal. Principals, nonprofit organizations, charter networks, philanthropic partners, universities, parents, and community members support the partnership. They have developed a comprehensive hiring portal that provides candidates and schools with a clear picture of available candidates and opportunities. The Partnership also plans to pool resources for programming and professional development.


► Does funding equitably follow students?

According to CPS, 521 district-run and contracted schools are funded through its Student-Based Budgeting formula, which is equivalent to 34% of its entire budget. Specialty and alternative district-run schools are not funded through this formula. Charter schools previously used the formula, but are now outside of it due to a change in state law in August 2017. Charter school students must be allocated between 97% and 103% of what CPS spends per pupil.


► Do schools have the kinds of teachers they need?

CPS reports that the most significant teacher vacancy challenges remain in hard-to-staff subjects like special education and bilingual education. To increase teacher diversity, the district recruits from historically black colleges and Hispanic-serving institutions, and is strengthening its dual-credit programs to grow its own pipeline of diverse teachers. CPS provides intensive recruitment and retention support to a cohort of high-needs schools to increase equitable access to great teachers. The district also launched a paraeducator-to-teacher program and recently expanded new teacher residency programs to increase the number of teachers in hard-to-staff subject areas. Interviewees previously reported that teacher quality and recruitment in the charter sector vary by network. The charter sector has not done sectorwide analysis on quality and fit.

Is the education strategy rooted in the community?


Is the whole community engaged? Education is a citywide endeavor. When families, community organizations, and city leaders have the opportunity to provide feedback and share in the vision, the strategy is more likely to be sustainable and meet the needs of all students. In this goal, we look at how well the city is doing with engaging key stakeholders.


► Does the city engage families in educational decisions that impact them?

Both sectors engage with families around school openings, closings, and consolidations, although processes could be improved by involving families earlier. An interviewee explained that decisions on closure are made at the central office and then “sold” to the community, rather than having the community help decide which schools to close. Community members reported that planning for the upcoming merger of Ogden and Jenner elementary schools seems to have worked well, even as they serve very different neighborhoods on the North Side. In contrast, the plan to close four high schools on the South Side was met with fierce opposition. The district did, however, consent to phasing out the schools rather than closing them outright. State law mandates a regular process for informing families about closures and helping them transition to a new school. In the charter sector, most schools host information fairs for families facing school closure to help them understand their alternatives. Both sectors engage with families around school openings; CPS has started to use multiple methods to inform families and solicit input, including community meetings, public hearings, and newspaper advertisements.


► Does the education system respond to community feedback?

CPS has implemented several strategies to collect and incorporate community input, and there are avenues for engagement across district and charter schools. The Local School Councils give input on school direction in district schools. The Illinois Network of Charter Schools works with member schools to conduct family engagement trainings, and listens to family concerns. CPS has partnered with the University of Chicago to survey charter and district families annually and report the results as school climate measures. There is some opportunity for parent groups to meet with the board of education on systems-level issues, but these efforts may not reach all parents; the district also runs a parent university, Community Action Councils, and Parent Advisory Councils. Despite these promising strategies, there is a perception among community members that district decisions are not always based on community input, and that that the city is not necessarily responsive to concerns about the “big ticket” items such as budget cuts or teacher strikes.


► Is there a strong and deep coalition of support for the education strategy?

CPS is under mayoral control, which has encouraged alignment and involvement among civic leaders. There is significant coordination between education leaders in the district and charter sectors on shared priorities such as facilities funding, common accountability, talent, personalized learning, and others. However, the teachers union in Chicago is powerful and not generally supportive of the direction of reform efforts.


► Are a variety of groups engaged in education?

Several community-based organizations support CPS in its work around parent advocacy and engagement. There is also local philanthropic support for school improvement, teacher development, and more. Local universities are actively involved in talent initiatives. However, community leaders say that not all voices are regularly included in discussions about the direction of education and that some groups, such as Hispanic families, are not well represented.

Do students have access to a high-quality education?


Do school choice and supply meet family needs? This goal addresses how well the city is doing with providing families access to quality schools. We look at what the city is doing to ensure quality schools are in every neighborhood, and how well the choice process is working for families who want to use it.


► Do families have the information they need and know how to use it?

In fall 2017 CPS launched a new unified enrollment system called GoCPS, with a search feature that includes in-depth profiles on all public schools, district and charter, across grade levels. The guide includes information from the district’s school quality ratings. The amount of detail about  school programs and curriculum varies widely, and there is no information about specific special education services available at the school level. Interviewees suggested that many families don’t understand the choice landscape as a whole and need more support making sense of the information available to them. CPS partnered with some community groups to help with outreach and education, but interviewees reported that this effort is being rethought to improve its effectiveness and reach. Additionally, CPS and the University of Chicago launched High School Bound, which allows Chicago students to learn about the many public high schools and programs offered at CPS.


► Is the enrollment process working for families?

Through GoCPS, incoming 9th graders for the 2018-19 school year used a single application, single offer process to select and enroll at all public high schools, both district and charter. Following the application window in March 2018, the district reported that 92% percent of incoming freshman (nearly 25,000 students) were matched to a school through the system, and 81% of students were offered a seat at one of their top three choices. CPS acknowledged that some top-performing schools could accept only a fraction of those who applied, highlighting the need for continued school improvement efforts. In Kindergarten through 8th grade schools, CPS streamlined the process for district schools of choice, including open enrollment at neighborhood schools, into two applications within GoCPS. K–8 charters use separate systems.


► Does the school supply represent an array of models?

Education leaders perceive that the city has a fairly diverse set of school options, both district and charter. However, of the five new schools that opened between 2014-15 and 2016-17, all had traditional instructional models. No new schools opened in 2017-18. In 2018-19, two district schools with a classical model will open, as will Art in Motion Charter School. In May 2018 the district received a $14 million dollar grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to support personalized learning at 35 schools.


► Is the city strategically managing its school portfolio?

In February 2018 CPS moved to close four underenrolled schools and consolidate a few others. Between 2012 and 2017 the district placed a  moratorium on district school closures, and only five schools opened between 2014-15 and 2016-17 (all charter schools). Enrollment and common performance data are available for making decisions. However, community and education leaders feel that CPS does not yet have a long-term plan for its school portfolio, and that education leaders are not being strategic about closing or siting individual schools. Interviewees said that charter school openings have been driven by available facilities and will open where they are most likely to attract students, not necessarily where a new school is most needed. CPS said it plans to announce new policies later in 2018.

Little in Place

► Is transportation working for families?

Transportation is a barrier for families wanting to access the choice process. CPS provides transportation for K–8 students at CPS neighborhood or magnet schools within a certain geographic area. Students can receive partial discounts for public transit passes, but there is no free option for charter school students or district school families attending the few choice schools that do not provide transportation. Given the size of the city, this is a significant challenge for families trying to access schools that are farther away, as well as for families who cannot afford the discounted transit pass.

Data & Scoring

Where did we get this information?

► Interviews with district, charter, and community leaders

► Policy documents from district, charter, and state websites

► School data from each city

► A 400-parent survey administered in March, 2017 in Cleveland, Denver, Indianapolis, Memphis, New Orleans, Oakland, and Washington, D.C.

How did we score the
system reforms and goals?

Each indicator is scored with a rubric on a 4-point scale. We added the scores for the indicators to get an overall goal score. See the Methodology & Resources page for details.

Score Levels


About Chicago

Over the past several years, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has devolved authority to schools while raising standards and student achievement. Funds are distributed to district schools on a per-pupil basis, autonomous leaders are supported through an Independent School Principals program, and Local School Councils drive school-level decisions. Janice Jackson, who attended CPS and then served as teacher, network chief, and chief education officer, became chief executive officer in 2018.

School Choice in the City

Families attending district schools choose among schools in their neighborhood. The majority (but not all) of traditional public schools allow students living outside the neighborhood to apply and are admitted based on a lottery system. The district also has magnet and selective admission schools. Charter schools offer open enrollment across the city using lottery systems.

Governance Model

Chicago Public Schools has been under mayoral control since 1995. The seven-member Board of Education is appointed by the mayor. Most Chicago charter schools are authorized by CPS. Six are authorized by the Illinois State Charter School Commission.

2017 District and Charter Student Body

Enrollment: 381,349 students
Race and ethnicity: 47% Hispanic, 38% black, 10% white, 5% other
Low-income: 78% free and reduced-price lunch

2017 School Composition 

Note: Enrollment and demographics data for CPS and CPS-authorized charter schools only.
Source: Chicago Public Schools, 2016.
School data from researcher analysis of public records, 2016-17.

The Center on Reinventing Public Education is a research and policy analysis center at the University of Washington Bothell developing systemwide solutions for K–12 public education. Questions? Email