A comprehensive analysis of the astonishing changes that elevated the Chicago public school system from one of the worst in the nation to one of the most improved.

In 1987, Chicago was among the most troubled school systems in America. Thirty years later it ranked among the most improved. How a City Learned to Improve its Schools offers an account of how this transformation in Chicago’s schools occurred at every level from enhancing classroom instruction, to the organization of more engaging and effective school communities, to strengthening the preparation and support of teachers and school leaders, to sustaining an ambitious evidence-based public informing agenda on the progress of key reform initiatives and the challenges still ahead.

It is a story of democracy at work—citizens allying to challenge a dysfunctional power structure that maintained longstanding vestiges of institutional racism and then learning together how to move the system toward more equitable educational outcomes. An innovation and improvement space developed in local school communities that brought forward new leaders. Accompanying this was the emergence new organizations and significant changes in existing organizations, including local colleges of education, aiming to support educational improvements across the varied communities that comprise the city. And then, system leaders took an innovative turn in embracing partnerships with these organizations as they re-envisioned together how a central office might better support a system of schools.

This riveting account introduces the diverse array of people and organizations that came forward and the new energies that they brought into this enterprise. The authors describe how coherent systemwide changes emerged amidst the cacophony that typically characterizes school district reforms. They detail how informal social learning networks functioned as the invisible hand lending coordination and coherence to improvement efforts over time.

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