Thanks to loyal reader Prof. W. for forwarding this story.

Chicago public schools have been under mayoral control since 1995.

Mayor Daley hired Paul Vallas to reform the schools. He went on to reform the schools in Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Haiti, and now he is reforming schools in Bridgeport while running a national consulting business on reforming schools.

Then Mayor Daley promoted Arne Duncan to reform the schools. Duncan called his reforms “Renaissance 2010.” Before he left for DC in 2009 Duncan opened 100 new schools and closed many neighborhood schools.

Then came Ron Huberman to continue the Daley reforms.

And now Mayor Emanuel carries on in the Daley tradition, having recently instructed his hand-picked school board to close or privatize more schools.

And what’s the upshot of nearly two decades of reform?

“Twenty years of reform efforts and programs targeting low-income families in Chicago Public Schools has only widened the performance gap between white and African-American students, a troubling trend at odds with what has occurred nationally.

Across the city, and spanning three eras of CPS leadership, black elementary school students have lost ground to their white, Latino and Asian classmates in testing proficiency in math and reading, according to a recent analysis by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research.”

The Consortium report had the following conclusions:

• Graduation rates have improved dramatically, and high school test scores have risen; more
students are graduating without a decline in average academic performance.
• Math scores have improved incrementally in the elementary/middle grades, while
elementary/middle grade reading scores remained fairly flat for two decades.
• Racial gaps in achievement have steadily increased, with white students making slightly more
progress than Latino students, and African American students falling behind all other groups.
• Despite progress, the vast majority of CPS students have academic achievement levels that are
far below where they need to be to graduate ready for college.

Some more quotes from the report:

“Chicago schools are not what they were in 1990. Graduation rates have improved tremendously, and students are more academically prepared than they were two decades ago. ACT scores have risen in recent years, and elementary math scores are almost a grade level above where they were in the early 1990s. However, average test scores remain well below levels that indicate students are likely to succeed in college.

This is not a problem that is unique to Chicago. Nationwide, the typical high school graduate does not perform at college-ready levels. Chicago students do not perform more poorly than students with similar economic and ethnic backgrounds at other schools in Illinois.” p. 78

Over the course of the three eras of school reform, a number of dramatic system-wide initiatives were enacted. But instead of bringing dramatic changes in student achievement, district-wide changes were incremental -when they occurred at all. We can identify many individual schools that made substantial, sometimes dramatic, gains over the last 20 years, but dramatic improvements across an entire system of over 600 schools are more elusive.

Past research at CCSR suggests that that the process of school improvement involves careful attention to building the core organizational supports of schools -leadership, professional capacity, parent/community involvement, school learning climate, and instruction (Bryk, et al., 2010).

Building the organizational capacity of schools takes time and is not easily mandated at the district level. Nevertheless, the extent to which the next era of school reform drives system-wide improvement will likely depend on the extent to which the next generation of reforms attends to local context and the capacity of individual schools throughout the district.” p. 79

It is hard to see how this rate of change will eliminate poverty or close the achievement gaps (which have widened).

And will anyone be held accountable?