A comprehensive analysis of the astonishing changes that elevated the Chicago public school system from one of the worst in the nation to one of the most improved.
How a City Learned to Improve Its Schools tells the story of the extraordinary thirty-year school reform effort that changed the landscape of public education in Chicago. Acclaimed educational researcher Anthony S. Bryk joins five coauthors directly involved in Chicago’s education reform efforts, Sharon Greenberg, Albert Bertani, Penny Sebring, Steven E. Tozer, and Timothy Knowles, to illuminate the many factors that led to this transformation of the Chicago Public Schools.
Beginning in 1987, Bryk and colleagues lay out the civic context for reform, outlining the systemic challenges such as segregation, institutional racism, and income and resource disparities that reformers grappled with as well as the social conflicts they faced. Next, they describe how fundamental changes occurred at every level of schooling: enhancing classroom instruction; organizing more engaged and effective local school communities; strengthening the preparation, recruitment, and support of teachers and school leaders; and sustaining an ambitious evidence-based campaign to keep the public informed on the progress of key reform initiatives and the challenges still ahead. The power of this capacity building is validated by unprecedented increases in benchmarks such as graduation rates and college matriculation. This riveting account introduces key actors within the schools, city government, and business community, and the partnerships they forged. It also reveals the surprising yet essential role of Chicago's innovative information infrastructure in aligning disparate initiatives.
In making clear how elements such as advocacy, civic capacity, improvement research, and strong democracy contributed to large-scale progress in the system's 600-plus schools, the book highlights the greater lessons that the Chicago story offers for system improvement overall.
Anthony S. Bryk served as the ninth president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching from 2008 to 2020, where he led work on bringing the discipline of improvement science and organizing in improvement networks into education. In Chicago, Bryk cofounded the Center for School Improvement at the University of Chicago (subsequently expanded and operating as the Urban Education Institute) and the Consortium on Chicago School Research (now the UChicago Consortium on School Research).
Sharon Greenberg is formerly a CPS high school English teacher and presently a quality improvement advisor and a literacy and education consultant. She is a cofounder of the Center for School Improvement, where she was director of research and director of literacy. She also was a cabinet member and literacy consultant to Barbara Eason Watkins when she was the CPS Chief Education Officer.
Albert Bertani is currently a senior fellow with the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Across his career, he has served in multiple teaching and leadership roles in K–12 education and higher education. He also has served as a board member for Learning Forward, UChicago Impact, and Leading Educators.
Penny Sebring is a senior research associate at the University of Chicago and a cofounder of the UChicago Consortium. She has been engaged in and published on school reform efforts in Chicago for over 30 years and serves on the board of directors for the Chicago Public Education Fund and Kids First Chicago.
Steven E. Tozer is professor emeritus and past University Scholar at the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC), where he was the founding director of the Center for Urban Education Leadership. He is also cofounder of a UIC Ed.D. program in Urban Education Leadership.
Timothy Knowles currently serves as president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Over his career, Knowles has worked in K–12, higher education, and philanthropic institutions. He has founded and led multiple social sector and commercial organizations, served on a wide range of boards, and writes and speaks widely on public policy, education, and entrepreneurship.
“In this compelling account of Chicago school reform, key players join forces to build a promising future for the city’s students. Policy makers empowered local communities. Funders invested in promising programs. Researchers studied pressing problems. Administrators cultivated capacity. And teachers delivered for kids. Despite daunting challenges and setbacks, these reformers achieved remarkable success.” —Susan Moore Johnson, Jerome T. Murphy Research Professor, Harvard Graduate School of Education
“How a City Learned to Improve Its Schools is a book of monumental importance. At a time when more is asked of public education than ever before, when racialized inequality continues to threaten the promise of public schooling, and when the fastest growing sector of the student population are youngsters of color, school districts should be looking for new approaches to do better for all students. In their new book, Tony Bryk joins some of the most important scholars working in education today to treat us to a panoramic overview of how systems can move the needle in serving all students. This book is the antonym to facile silver bullets, tired old quick-fixes, and magical thinking in education. It is the book every scholar, policy maker, superintendent, teacher, parent and concerned citizen needs to read.” —Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco, chancellor, University of Massachusetts, Boston, the UCLA Wasserman Dean Emeritus, and author of Education: A Global Compact for a Time of Crisis