What happened this week in Chicago education


Drumroll please . . .

Without further ado, welcome to Chalkbeat Chicago’s first newsletter. We’re Cassie Walker Burke and Adeshina Emmanuel, and we’ll be rounding up Chicago public education news here each week. Please send any ideas our way:

Here is more about our plans for covering Chicago schools from Cassie. And read what Adeshina has to say about his experience growing up in CPS—and how that shapes his view now as an education reporter.

If you aren’t signed up for our free newsletter, or know a friend who would appreciate weekly intel about schools, subscribe to Chalkbeat newsletters:


The Big Story

“I have to listen to the will of the people.”  — CEO Janice Jackson, May 24, 2018

PHOTO: Adeshina Emmanuel
The overflow crowd at CPS CEO Janice Jackson’s May 24 town hall

After a revolving door of Chicago Public Schools CEOs, veteran educator-turned-CPS chief Janice Jackson has embarked on a citywide trust-building tour. Her latest stop happened Thursday at Michele Clark High School in the Austin community on the West Side, where, standing before a packed auditorium, Jackson touted the district’s efforts to make schools more welcoming to students and parents via a “customer service” approach.

For Jackson, “customer service” so far includes changes to streamline the high school application process and upward trending test scores and graduation rates. But, as she acknowledged before the crowd, “things are not all ice cream and lollipops.” When a school librarian, for example, asked how Jackson would address budget cuts that have made her profession “an endangered species” at CPS, the CEO responded with a call for more funding and placed that responsibility in the hands of state lawmakers. (That moment didn’t pass without her urging the attendees to lobby their lawmakers for more funding.)

Another teacher asked about the sustainability of new social emotional learning programs funded by grants: “As our students in our neighborhood continue to suffer through tragedies…is there a plan to sustain the funding for trauma programs if and when the grant money runs out?” Jackson again stressed the need for more state funding and said she was working with Democratic U.S. Senator Dick Durbin to secure federal dollars.

The crowd was generally friendly, even jovial at times. But a quiet intensity settled over the audience when a CPS grandparent stood and asked one of the last questions: “What can we do as a whole to make special education better?” Jackson started by saying she’s already on the record acknowledging CPS has a long way to go. She then asked the audience to look at her record addressing the issue since she became CEO. And she touted efforts to add new special education positions and reverse practices that, under her predecessors, kept students from services and led to a state takeover of the district’s special education program.

“I personally thought we could do it on our own,” Jackson said. “But I have to listen to the will of the people.”


The Week in Review

We recently attended the 2018 Education Writers Association conference in Los Angeles, where the highlight was a panel of student activists speaking out about school shootings. Alex King of North Lawndale College Prep spoke poignantly about the reality of everyday gun violence in Chicago, while students from Parkland, Florida, and Newtown, Connecticut, detailed their efforts to rally their generation—and adults—in the wake of mass shootings that forever changed their communities. Since that talk, two more school shootings have taken place: in Texas, the day after, and today in Indiana. Chalkbeat Indiana is there with the latest.

A group of Illinois school superintendents filed suit Wednesday against Gov. Bruce Rauner and the state of Illinois. They’re demanding $7 billion to fill the gap between the Illinois State Board of Education’s 2019 fiscal year budget request and the estimated cost of the new evidence-based state funding formula. Capitol Fax has more.  For a school by school picture, there’s this analysis from the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability. 

More questions surfaced this week about CPS’ mystery campus on the North Side. WBEZ has the story The site, which once housed a poor house, asylum and tuberculosis sanitarium, likely contains unmarked graves for up to 38,000, according to this Chicago Tribune piece.

The CPS Inspector General says Oscar Mayer Magnet School, a Lake View-based public Montessori program, should stop giving away its free pre-K seats to wealthy families that live in its attendance boundary. The school has a special provision that lets it operate unlike other magnet schools, which cast a citywide net in lieu of strict attendance zones. Here’s more from the Sun-Times. 

On Tuesday, the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research released a long-awaited report on the academic impact of Chicago’s 2013 school closures—the biggest wave of closures in the history of U.S. public education. Research on the academic impact of closures is pretty scarce, which makes the report’s findings relevant beyond Chicago. Test scores declined, particularly in math, but the study takes a wider view, analyzing the impact on absenteeism, suspensions and core GPA. WBEZ highlighted the psychological impact on students and teachers. At 88 pages, the study is a hefty, but compelling, read, detailing how some of the trauma could have been avoided with better planning, a longer timeline, and more sustained funding.

A reminder that Chalkbeat Chicago is regularly live tweeting events and meetings on Twitter. Follow us @ChalkbeatCHI, @cassiechicago and @public_ade.


Looking Ahead

What does handwringing over the “future of work” mean for classrooms? For starters, more questions than answers. Chalkbeat looks at the research claims and the national impact.

As suburban high school graduations are celebrated and college-bound seniors head out into the world, the specter of the Illinois college exodus looms again. NPR examines national trend of declining undergraduate enrollment. 

The fifth, and final, stop in Jackson’s town hall series takes place Tuesday at Back of the Yards College Prep. CPS Parent University has the details.

Last, but certainly not least, we’ve been busy planning our own Chalkbeat roadshow. Our 2018 Summer Listening Tour will be coming in June to a neighborhood near you. We want to hear what you think is missing from the conversation about public education in Chicago and your thoughts on how to improve schools in your community. We will be sharing more details soon. Interested in co-hosting an event? Email Cassie at


High Five

We’ve heard a lot so far about the need for balanced, critical reporting. But you’ve told us you also want to read about the good stuff happening with Chicago kids, too. So we plan to sign off each Friday with a High Five. Want to pitch us? Send a photo, with caption information, to Please include #HighFive in the subject line.

Today’s High Five comes courtesy of the nonprofit group Project Exploration, which hosted its inaugural Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology Signing Day inside City Hall on Thursday. The nonprofit teamed up with Boeing and Motorola (both HQ’d in Chicago) to push STEM programs in high schools for 50 students from underserved communities. Here’s the word “ecstatic” summed up in one image: 13 CPS seniors hold the banners for the colleges they plan to attend this fall.

PHOTO: Rebecca Kussmann
Project Exploration’s first STEM signing day