A PURE plan for Chicago schools

TribThe Chicago Tribune, the noted corporate reform cheerleader, has requested the public’s input into various phases of a proposed master plan for Chicago. This week they are looking at the schools.

Although the paper has been reluctant to share other pieces of wisdom from PURE and yours truly, I felt it might be worth a few minutes to dust off previous work and send it in.

Here’s what I just sent to PlanForChicago@tribune.com. You might want to take a few minutes to share your thoughts there, too.


A PURE Approach to School Improvement


  1. How do we improve struggling schools? Studies by the Consortium on Chicago School Research1 show that the most effective reform efforts are wholistic – and that reforms that fail to address all key areas will generally fail. In the 1990’s, principals and local school councils were creating and monitoring school improvement plans (SIPs) that addressed all key areas. Under Paul Vallas and NCLB, SIPs turned into plans to raise reading and math test scores. We think it’s time to go back to comprehensive plans that work.
  2. Who should be running schools? We believe in balanced governance – local decision making with centralized support and, where appropriate, collaborative intervention. Designs for Change has done key research2 on the difference in results between top-down and local decision making, finding that schools that kept local control saw remarkable achievement gains from 1990 to 2005 while schools at similar starting points which were subject to CPS interventions essentially flat-lined during the same period.
  1. What about accountability? We believe that accountability must start with the entity legally responsible for providing public K-12 education – that is, the state. And Illinois is a shameful state when it comes to meeting that responsibility; we are a wealthy state that funds its schools poorly. With respect to assessment, we support a balance of very limited standardized testing combined with performance and portfolio assessment which give students more control over their own progress and help them relate their work to their own lives. There are ways that this kind of assessment can be monitored and reported for accountability purposes.3 We oppose student retention, a very expensive practice (costing some $100 million per year) which does not work and actually harms students.
  1. What can be done about unmotivated students and parents? At the very least, students need curriculum and instruction that goes beyond test preparation, which offers them few rewards and lots of punishment. Regarding parents, briefly, we believe parents need to be welcomed in the school, given specific, meaningful ways to be involved, and offered a real voice in decision making. This position is shared by national parent involvement guru Joyce Epstein,4 and is reflected in PURE’s 2006 report on parent involvement in CPS.5
  2. What should CPS do instead of closings schools, flunking children and firing experienced teachers? Our children need more from CPS.Because too many children are not receiving the help they need, PURE recommends that schools create a personal learning plan(PLP)for any child determined to be behind or at risk of falling behind academically. CPS’s role would be to assure that schools have adequate resources to implement each PLP, that PLPs are being implemented, and that they are effective.


  1. http://pureparents.org/index.php?blog/show/What_works_and_what_doesnt_coming_soon_from_the_Consortium

       2. http://www.designsforchange.org/pdfs/BP_rpt_092105.pdf

       3. http://www.edaccountability.org/

       4. http://www.csos.jhu.edu/P2000/center.htm

       5. http://pureparents.org/data/files/Pure%20Report%20OL.pdf.


Parents United for Responsible Education



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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.