Tomorrow’s Economy: How Chicago is Leading the Nation’s Schools 

Future generations must be equipped to tackle the challenges of tomorrow’s global economy. Ensuring their success is no simple task. And while there are many factors that contribute to childhood success in schools, the impact principals make on students’ lives continue to affect them into early adulthood.

In Chicago, this impact is undeniable. In fact, research on Chicago schools tells us that elementary schools with strong leaders are seven times more likely to improve in reading scores and four times more likely to improve in math scores.  Both of these are critical to success in college and career. That’s why CME Group Foundation believes it is vital for Chicago students to have access to top-notch principals and educators.

Those from other parts of the country constantly hear about Chicago’s violence and budget woes; they rarely hear about the impressive success our students are seeing. Chicago’s students are learning and growing faster than students in almost every major city in the country – faster than 96 percent of students in the United States to be exact.

In their study on Illinois State Achievement scores for Chicago Public Schools and its charter students, Stanford University researchers Sean Reardon and Rebecca Hinze-Pifer found that, in comparison to the 100 largest school districts in the country, Chicago Public Schools students are learning significantly faster from grades three to eight than their peers across the country. They found Chicago’s students are getting six years of learning in five years. What is especially uplifting is that all racial groups and income levels experienced these improvements.

Principal Priority

Though our city has seen impressive results in recent years related to student success, still, less than 20 percent of Chicago’s ninth-graders graduate high school and go on to earn a college degree within 10 years, according to a 2016 study by the University of Chicago’s Consortium on School Research. This troubling statistic reinforces the fact there is work to be done. The CME Group Foundation wants to continue to be a leader in giving the city the momentum it needs to provide the best math and science education possible.

To me, Reardon and Hinze-Pifer’s research makes it clear: Our city’s students are some of the brightest in the nation. But beyond that, their triumphs would not be possible without great principals leading our schools. With this in mind, the Foundation recently announced a $1 million commitment to The Chicago Public Education Fund (The Fund), a nonprofit organization supporting talented principals in order to increase the number of great public schools in Chicago.

Since 2013, The Fund has supported and enabled talented school leaders through unique and robust professional learning opportunities.  A recent study by Boston Consulting Group confirmed that principals who participated in The Fund’s programs are 60 percent more likely to develop into high-performing principals and 15 percent more likely to remain high-performing upon receiving that designation. Our investment will allow The Fund to make the improvements of the last decade permanent, while serving more than 200 principals and their teacher teams annually.

Several months ago, I visited Lovett Elementary School in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood with Principal LeViis Haney.  After three years as leader of this neighborhood school, Dr. Haney had transformed it into a 21st century learning environment.  I saw students sitting on cushions in the hallway, by themselves on their laptops, or in pairs quietly working on projects and fully engaged in their own learning.  In the classrooms, teachers worked with small groups of students, while others worked as teams or individually.

K to College Model

We need a well-rounded approach to increase the number of students who go on to pursue post-high school education. As Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in April 2017, a K-12 model may have been relevant 20 years ago, but for students to compete in the global economy after graduation, the city of Chicago must move toward a pre-K to college model instead. That’s right. Today’s principals must begin to prepare students for post-secondary success as early as pre-K. And they’re on their way.

Chicago is an example of how this can work. Across the city, principals are transforming their schools by implementing innovative technology to personalize learning for students, reaching students where they are and helping them achieve their dreams. Thanks to the tireless efforts of school leaders, Chicago will continue to lead the nation in preparing students for success in college and career. Our hope is that other cities and school districts will follow.

Kassie Davis is the Executive Director of the CME Group Foundation

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