NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Chicago's Ambitious School Reforms

April 27, 1999

In 1995 the Illinois legislature gave Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley sweeping managerial powers over what were then the worst public schools in the country. In no other big city does the mayor have so much authority over education.

Daley initiated radical changes.

  • He took management of the schools away from professional educators and vested it in trusted aides who are fully accountable to him.
  • He dismissed the 17 unions in charge of school repairs and authorized the central board and individual schools to contract with private firms.
  • He cut 13 percent of the central administrative staff without laying off a single classroom teacher and balanced the school budget -- eliminating a $1.3 billion deficit.
  • He instituted back-to-basics teaching methods and tough disciplinary policies.

Social promotion was replaced with requirements that students meet certain academic standards in order to be promoted -- with low scorers directed to summer schools or evening classes.

Under the old system, two or three incompetent teachers were fired each year. This year, the board will dismiss 50 to 60, along with five or six principals. No longer enjoying tenure, 36 principals were removed last year.

As a result of these reforms, student test scores have been rising in every category and every grade level for the past three years. Truancy is down and, following 13 years of decline, enrollment has climbed by 30,000 to 427,000.

Source: Julia Vitullo-Martin (author), "Innovation Comes to Chicago Public Schools," Wall Street Journal, April 27, 1999.


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