November 22, 2022
Spotlight: Our Education Program
A new school year has begun. Schools in Chicago and across the country face new and complex challenges due to the pandemic. The emerging picture is profoundly concerning. The available data indicates that a significant number of students are disconnected from school and the most vulnerable students have seen significant setbacks to their academic progress. In Chicago Public Schools (CPS), after years of academic growth and reducing the academic gaps between white students and students of color, these gaps have increased. And these trends are not unique to Chicago. The national assessment results from Curriculum Associates* suggest that students in majority-black schools remain five months behind in math and reading, while students in majority-white schools are now just two months behind. In short, disparities that have long existed have only worsened.
But now it is time to focus on recovery. Young people are resilient and dedicated principals, and teachers want to help get their students back on track. The path forward will require public schools and the partners that support them to get better at what they have always struggled to do: accelerate the learning of students who have historically lacked opportunity. This is complex work. To accelerate learning and focus on grade-level skills, teachers need to quickly and accurately diagnose what students need to understand to engage in grade level work. And teachers need to avoid getting bogged down in the old practice of remediation or re-teaching, which can leave students perpetually behind grade level. This must be done with instruction and curriculum that centers students’ lived experiences, identities, and communities.
The Fry Foundation’s grantee partners are already positioned to help CPS address these challenges. The Foundation invests in education organizations with track records for helping principals and teacher leaders drive improvements at the school level. Many of our grantee partners do this by working with CPS principals to implement research-supported best practices that allow for instructional improvements that reach all students. And several grantee partners work with CPS leadership to design and enact policies that help develop and retain these strong principals and teacher leaders. All this work takes place with an overarching focus on ensuring all students are engaged in grade level content and on eliminating historical racial opportunity gaps.
Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has an ambitious agenda to drive recovery, to get all students back on track, to promote equity, and to ensure engaging teaching and learning in all schools for all students. The CPS budget is supporting instructional coaches in schools with the highest needs, teacher leadership teams, teacher professional learning, and high-dosage tutoring. These investments complement the goals of the Fry Foundation and the efforts of many of our grantee partners.
- The Fry Foundation and CPS agree that teacher leadership is critical to improving instruction in schools. CPS’s investment in teacher leadership is a direct expansion of the work of our grantee partners: Teach Plus, Teachers Supporting Teachers, and the New Teacher Center.
- CPS is investing in establishing teacher leadership teams focused on instructional improvement. This investment expands practices that have long been used and advanced by grantee partners like the Network for College Success and UIC College of Education Center for Urban Education Leadership.
- The districts’ investment in instructional coaching complements and builds upon the work of grantee partners like Leading Educators and the Achievement Network (ANET), both of which have demonstrated the power of instructional coaching focused on helping educators successfully implement grade-level curriculum.
- Leading Educators and ANET have helped CPS support teachers to successfully adopt the Skyline Curriculum – the districts universal curriculum that is focused on rigorous grade level learning that reflects the cultures and communities of the students attending CPS schools. Leading Educators also received funding from the Fry Foundation to convene educators and partners implementing the Skyline curriculum in order to share best practices, support direct implementation and inform the district’s broader implementation strategy. The lessons learned will also help inform the training and ongoing development for newly hired instructional coaches.
- CPS’s Tutor Corps program is taking to district scale what grantee partner, Saga Education**, has shown to be an effective intervention to close gaps in learning. Saga has been awarded a contract to train all CPS math tutors that are a part of the Tutor Corps. CPS’s Tutor Corp program is one of the largest and most successful district-led high-dosage tutoring efforts launched as part of pandemic recovery efforts.
- Finally, this year, CPS will administer the Cultivate Survey, developed by grantee partner the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research and UChicago Impact. The Cultivate Survey is administered two times a year to all students to gain actionable insights into students’ perceptions of their classroom experiences. In recent years, grantee partners like Network for College Success and the National Equity Project have piloted and advocated for student perspective surveys to help principals and teachers be more responsive to how students feel about their daily instructional experiences. This practice is a promising path to greater student engagement and equitable learning environments.
Everyone working with students in schools are keenly aware of the stakes. If we cannot help all students re-engage in school and be able to successfully engage in grade-level academic work – students and communities will suffer. And we might see a return to a time of low high-school graduation rates. But as stated earlier, young people are resilient and educators are committed to doing the work needed to help students succeed. We believe the strategies that CPS and our grantee partners are implementing are promising. As always, The Fry Foundation will watch closely and learn from this ambitious agenda to ensure that our investments contribute to recovery and academic growth for all CPS students.