Chicago’s school history is a testimony to the lack of difference that different reform movements have made; Chicago has tried them all to little avail.

New Chicago School Reform

Chicago is now trying something else to get its high school graduation rate above 50% (that’s right, 50%).  There are two core pieces to this effort, described in this article from the Atlantic.  

The two core pieces are a different grading system that focuses on learning as opposed to sorting, and a whole lot more attention to ninth graders who are in trouble. 

The grading system cares about what the students learn.  Thus students can hand in work late and still get a grade on it and they can redo their work and improve their grade.  The theory is that giving a student a 0, for instance, for not turning their work on time, isn’t actually helping them learn.  Instead, the message the student is receiving is that he or she is stupid and a failure.  And then the student drops out, which helps no one.  Giving someone a 0 for not turning in an assignment is helpful if the student is capable of altering their behavior in a positive way (my daughter got a 0 on an assignment this year, and it was a good thing), but not if it is going to lead to cutting school and then dropping out.

The second part of the Chicago focus stems from the realization that ninth grade is crucial.  If a student can pass ninth grade on the first pass, s/he is much more likely to complete high school.   Thus a number of schools are doing old fashioned interventions such as extra tutoring for at risk ninth graders.

This isn’t a panacea.  First of all, it’s pretty clear that there is some cheating going on that’s inflating the numbers of graduates.  Second, there’s a fair amount of teacher resistance who think that the new grading system is unfair to those students who can perform.  But so few students can perform that it’s hard not to focus on the majority who aren’t.  And maybe there’s some glimmer of progress for the awful Chicago public schools.

Jared Gellert is the executive director for CITE.

CITE is the Center for Integrated Teacher Education. For over 25 years, CITE has and continues to train TEACHERS (Early Childhood, Literacy, Special Ed, Grad Courses, DASA); COUNSELORS (School, Mental Health Masters, Advanced Certificate); and ADMINISTRATORS (SBL, SDL, Public Admin, Online PhD) in all five boroughs of NYC, Yonkers, and Long Island.

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