This week’s leg fax: corporate reform not working in Chicago

FAX Machine 19In 2007, FairTest’s Monty Neill and I wrote a report called “Chicago School Reform: Lessons for the Nation,” which strongly cautioned against using Chicago and its mayoral controlled school district as a model for school improvement.

Six years later, our concerns have been confirmed by researchers Elaine Weiss and Don Long for the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education group.

I just shared their findings with the Illinois House and Senate Education committee members in this week’s PURE leg fax:

NEW REPORT: Market-driven school reforms, mayoral control causing more harm than good

A new study, “Market-oriented education reforms’ rhetoric trumps reality,” on the effects of market-driven reform in Washington, D.C., New York City and Chicago concludes that little has been accomplished and some harm has been done to students, especially the underprivileged.

Market-oriented education reform refers to a series of initiatives that include educator evaluations based in large part on student standardized test scores, the closure of schools that are considered failing or underenrolled, and an increase in the number of charter schools, many of which are operated by for-profit companies. (Washington Post,

States and districts have been forced to adopt many of these reforms to comply with NCLB or apply for Race to the Top grants, with added pressure from corporate-backed groups like Students First and Stand for Children.

The executive summary of the report ( concludes:

  • Test scores increased less, and achievement gaps grew more, in “reform” cities than in other urban districts.
  • Reported successes for targeted students evaporated upon closer examination.
  • Test-based accountability prompted churn that thinned the ranks of experienced teachers, but not necessarily bad teachers.
  • School closures did not send students to better schools or save school districts money.
  • Charter schools further disrupted the districts while providing mixed benefits, particularly for the highest-needs students.
  • Emphasis on the widely touted market-oriented reforms drew attention and resources from initiatives with greater promise.
  • The reforms missed a critical factor driving achievement gaps: the influence of poverty on academic performance. Real, sustained change requires strategies that are more realistic, patient, and multipronged.


  • Support the CPS school closing moratorium bills SB 1571 and HB 3283.
  • Support community-based school improvement and stronger local school councils trained by independent, non-CPS training groups. (
  • Support an elected school board in Chicago.

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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.