- A recent study conducted by Stanford University researchers reveals Chicago Public Schools, labeled 30 years ago as the worst in the nation, now has students in grades 3-8 averaging six years of academic growth over a five-year period — a rate that is significantly faster than 96% of school districts in the nation, Education Week reports.
- There is also evidence that incoming student cohorts are improving rapidly as student test scores in grades 3-8 across all racial demographics have risen twice as fast as the national average of improvement, causing the city to narrow both the national academic and some racial gaps.
- These improvements are despite the fact that the district, which has 370,000 students, has been faced with rising poverty levels, declining enrollment and shifting racial demographics over the past decade.
One of several lessons behind the story of this data is the effect academic growth has on academic proficiency. While Chicago still lags on proficiency measures, the district’s focus on growth is slowly closing achievement gaps and is closing racial gaps as well.
Though all the lessons of this study are still being unpacked, one of the most interesting is likely connection between the improvement in early childhood education and the improved academic growth in later grades. The district has been working on expanding preschool attendance rates and improving professional development for elementary principals, particularly in the early elementary grades that were not a part of this study. This seems to tie in with statements from the Campaign for Grade Level Reading that assert “reading proficiency by third grade is the most important predictor of high school graduation and career success.” It seems logical that improved reading rates would also affect academic growth measures.
Another factor to consider is the impact of charter school competition. A representative of Chicago Public School cited competition from private and charter schools and clearer accountability standards as two of the factors in the improvement. It is ironic that Chicago’s past poor performance seems to have encouraged one of greatest number of charter schools in the nation, a factor that now seems to have led to its own stellar improvement.