Turnaround Spotlight: Chicago Public Schools

Of all the districts nationwide, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has some of the longest and most extensive experience in turnaround, having implemented five different turnaround models at over 40 schools since 1997. These initiatives align with the federal government’s school improvement models, though CPS refers to them with different names. In chronological order, the CPS models are called the Reconstitution model, School Closure and Restart model, School Turnaround Specialist Program, Academy for Urban School Leadership, and the CPS Office of School Improvement model.

Under these reforms, CPS elementary schools’ test scores improved significantly within four years. The earliest high school turnarounds had variable results under the Reconstitution model, but of the high schools that were reformed later under other models and had at least one year of available data, six out of seven showed improvements in the on-track to graduate rates.

All the turnaround initiatives included a change in school leadership. Since 2008, Turnaround schools have been evaluated on a school-by-school basis to determine whether or not to replace the pre-turnaround principal. Under the Reconstitution, Academy of Urban School Leadership and the CPS Office of School Improvement models, the district changed both leadership and staff, keeping the same students, but starting the school year with at least 50 percent new staff. In addition, these three models adopted a new organizational structure and a new or revised instructional program.

Under School Closure and Restart, the schools were closed for a year during which the students were moved into other schools. New schools opened in the same buildings and could be operated by charter management organizations, contract organizations, or as performance schools (in-district schools with CPS staff that have more flexibility than traditional CPS schools) , all of which had more autonomy over curriculum and budget. New student enrollment was through a lottery and required a student application. In most cases, schools enrolled one grade per year, increasing the number of students each year until all grade levels were enrolled.

The two most recent models, Academy for Urban School Leadership and the CPS Office of School Improvement model, were designed to give the turnaround operator additional flexibility from district constraints while holding the school operator accountable to strict standards of success. For example, schools can hire their own special education staff and are not required to use CPS district staff. Each staff member has specific goals and metrics to which they’re held accountable. To support this data-driven culture, the Office of School Improvement is developing data dashboards for every position to support staff as they monitor their performance metrics.

Learn more about successful turnarounds in Innovate Public Schools’ report, “Struggling Schools, Promising Solutions.”

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