History and Context

1994-2000 Chicago Urban Systemic Initiative cite

The subsection on the Urban Systemic Initiative draws on a description by CPS staff leading the post-2003 Urban Systemic Program and new CPS Office of Mathematics and Science. In the subsection on the early Chicago Urban Systemic Program pre-2003, reports about the CSI were provided by the pre-2003 leadership team. Additional analysis and data recovery is needed to compare and contrast the views of these different leadership groups and the influences of these programs.

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Improvements in student performance on standardized tests remained elusive into the early 1990s. District leaders focused attention on student performance in mathematics and science, including core expectations around curricula, and accountability for student achievement. As a result, CPS applied for support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to participate in the NSF-funded Urban Systemic Initiative.

Funded by the NSF, Chicago’s Urban Systemic Initiative, the Chicago Systemic Initiative (CSI) launched in September 1994. It represented a renewed district commitment to mathematics and science education and reemergence of district strategies for improving mathematics and science achievement. cite

Prior to 1988, the district had much stronger central control over curricular and human resource decisions in schools. Dissatisfaction with these central policies was a factor in the 1988 Illinois State law giving schools local control. An analysis of these pre-1988 policies in comparison to 2002-2008 reforms would be fascinating, but is outside the scope of this paper.
Under the CSI, new CPS standards for mathematics and science were developed for all grades, K-12. These CPS standards were designed to align CPS curricula with State of Illinois and national standards for mathematics and science instruction. High school graduation requirements in mathematics and science were significantly strengthened; CPS graduation requirements exceeded existing state graduation requirements at the time. cite
A decade after CPS increased its high school graduation requirements, the Illinois State Board of Education increased mathematics graduation requirements for all Illinois schools in 2005 to three years for 2009 graduates, with no specific courses required. Science graduation requirements will increase from the current one-year state requirement to two years for 2011 graduates. Research published in 2010 showed that the increased graduation requirements did not improve college-readiness as policymakers had expected.

High School Graduation Requirements
  Pre-CSI Changes made during CSI (1995)
Mathematics Two years Three years, including one year each of algebra, geometry, and advanced algebra with trigonometry
Science One year, no specific course requirements or laboratory requirement Three years of laboratory-based courses, including one year of life science (e.g., biology), one year of physical science (e.g., physics or chemistry), and one year of earth/space or environmental science

The CSI enabled the district to employ a cadre of support personnel who advised local schools on key mathematics- and science-related decisions and developed programs to support local efforts. CSI leaders created programs to help teachers and administrators better understand the new standards for excellence in mathematics and science instruction, and consulted with schools about curricula and professional development. The CSI also created a menu of programs highlighting best practices in mathematics and science so that schools could choose workshops aligned with their needs. CSI “incentive awards” were also made to schools, typically of $5,000-$10,000 each, to support locally developed math and/or science initiatives.

CSI leaders felt both the need to provide district leadership, and a desire to support the site-based decision-making authority of individual schools. The struggle to find the right balance between central and local decision-making persists to this day. With the NSF-funded incentive award program, CSI leaders provided parameters for the incentive awards, but individual schools determined their own priorities and designed their own programs. The awards were used for a wide range of purposes related to professional development for teachers. CSI leadership viewed the allocation of grant resources as a key way to focus local school efforts on substantive mathematics and science improvement efforts and the grants were greatly appreciated by local school leaders. Analysis done for CSI annual reports to the NSF confirmed that significant funds were leveraged for mathematics and science improvement with local school budgets as a result of the incentive awards.

At the end of the CSI grant in 1999, CPS had new structures in place to support standards-based education: the Chicago Academic Standards (CAS), Curriculum Framework Statements (CFS), and high school math and science Programs of Study with its aligned Chicago Academic Standards Examination (CASE). An instructional manual on the CAS and CFS went to 25,000 teachers, 120 schools received training to develop instructional modules aligned with the CAS, and staff from 423 schools attended CAS workshops. Through CSI, 1,097 teachers enrolled in endorsement courses at four universities between 1994 and 1998.

The CSI used student achievement test results (see Table below) to confirm that consistent and specific academic standards, strengthened policies, university partnerships, and increased focus on best practices in mathematics and science had a positive impact on student achievement. The CSI also noted the continuing need to deepen the mathematics/science leadership capacity and content knowledge of the district’s mathematics and science teachers. Building that capacity became the focus of the Urban Systemic Program (USP) proposal submitted to NSF by CPS in 1999.

Table 3: Iowa Test of Basic Skills Results in Mathematics for Grades 3-8 Combined, 1997-1999 cite

The district discontinued the use of ITBS after 2005 when the State Board of Education began to administer a statewide assessment in mathematics in grades 3-8, as part of meeting NCLB requirements.

    Percent of Students in the:    
Year Number of Students Reported Bottom Quartile
(1st-25th percentiles)
Quartile 2
(26th-50th percentiles)
Quartile 3
(51st-75th percentiles)
Top Quartile
(76th-99th percentiles)
% At/Above National Norms
(50th-99th percentiles)
1999 148,319 26.8 30.5 24.7 18.0 44.0
1998 151,145 31.0 30.8 23.3 14.9 39.5
1997 147,293 35.1 29.0 21.2 14.7 37.0

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