Key Questions

1. Elaborate the framework of essential supports and contextual resources for school improvement

2. Examine the empirical evidence about each of the key elements and how they link to improvements in student outcomes

3. Determine how the internal essential supports interact with community social capital and student needs to affect the improvement of student learning


In this report, which draws on data from Chicago public elementary schools in the 1990s, the authors present a framework of essential supports and community resources that facilitate school improvement. The authors provide evidence on how the essential supports contribute to improvements in student learning, and they investigate how community circumstances impact schools’ ability to embrace the essential supports.

The authors offer empirical evidence on the five essential supports—leadership, parent-community ties, professional capacity, student-centered learning climate, and ambitious instruction—and investigate the extent to which strength in the essential supports was linked to improvements in student learning, and the extent to which weakness was linked to stagnation in learning gains.

The authors also find that a school’s capacity for improvement is heavily influenced by its community context. Although improving and stagnating schools were found in all different communities, those with particularly strong social capital and low crime rates were likely to have schools with strong essential supports, whereas those with weak social capital were likely to have weak essential supports in their schools. Social capital, in addition to the presence of abuse and neglect among children in the community, impacted the essential supports in complex ways, which the authors describe in detail.

Marshaling a wide variety of evidence—the UChicago Consortium’s biannual surveys of CPS; standardized test scores; and data from the Chicago Police Department, the Chapin Hall Center for Children, and the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods—the authors set forth a framework for guiding school improvement efforts and illustrate the barriers that stand in the way of this task.