History and Context

1988 and Local Control of Education

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In 1988 corporate leaders joined community activists in lobbying for school reform legislation in Springfield. With the Chicago School Reform Act (PA85-1418), the Illinois State Legislature granted control of CPS schools to local community school councils and principals. Individual schools were given significant authority and discretion to use their budgets for making and carrying out curricular, policy, hiring, resource allocation, and partnership decisions. The authority was vested in each Local School Council (LSC) composed of the principal, six parents, two teachers, and two local community members, and, in high schools, a student.

The landmark 1988 Chicago School Reform Act gave local control to each of Chicago’s approximately 600 schools. Every level of the CPS organization felt the impact.

Under the assumption that local schools would be making decisions regarding curricula, the district’s curricular offices and support structures were largely dismantled, leaving only a skeleton staff. Schools seeking to improve student achievement in mathematics and science were forced to rely largely on expertise and resources from outside the school district. Typically, this support was provided by universities, not-for-profit organizations, and others committed to the Chicago Public Schools. Examples of these partners include the Teachers Academy for Math and Science Education or TAMS, which had NSF and state funding, and the Chicago Annenberg Challenge with the support of the Annenberg Foundation. These externally-sourced projects could be effective, but there was little connection between the different projects and no systemic support for them. Outside groups supporting individual schools had limited capacity; they could only support a relatively small number of schools. (See research reports from the Chicago Annenberg Research Project for more detail.) This left most schools on their own to address the challenge of improving mathematics and science instruction.

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