Key Questions

1. Were there improvements in student outcomes in NLCI schools in the years of the initiative?

2. If so, did student outcomes improve more in NLCI schools than in the district as a whole?

3. Were outcomes at NLCI schools significantly higher than at schools serving similar students?


The North Lawndale Cluster Initiative (NLCI) sought to improve academic achievement and educational attainment in a cluster of neighborhood schools in Chicago from 2013–14 through 2018–19, providing funding for four elementary schools and their neighborhood high school to provide vertically-integrated services from pre-k through high school. This evaluation describes the changes in student outcomes that occurred in the years of the initiative. All outcomes improved, and many outcomes showed substantial improvements, although only pre-k attendance was significantly higher compared to matched schools that served similar students.

The analysis assessed the impact of funding a vertical integration cluster strategy in one neighborhood and should not be taken as an assessment of the effectiveness of the schools overall, or of individual programs. The bulk of the funding was used to expand pre-k from half-day to full-day programs, which showed significantly more improvement over time, relative to comparison schools. Outcomes in the elementary, middle, and high school grades generally improved at a similar rate as other district schools serving similar students. Furthermore, as described in the report, the potential gains that NLCI schools could have realized were limited by high student mobility rates and variability in the size and composition of the student population from year-to-year at the high school level.

Key Findings

  • Pre-k attendance improved significantly with the initiative, surpassing comparison schools and the district average.
  • Attendance and school climate improved over time in elementary schools, matching or surpassing the district average, not significantly more than comparison schools.
  • Test scores in grades 2-8 improved along with the districtwide improvements.
  • Students fared better in the transition to high school—reducing the gap with the district average but not closing it—and at similar rates as comparison schools.
  • High school outcomes improved but were lower than outcomes of similar students at other schools for many years.
  • Improvements occurred despite variable student enrollment and should be interpreted within the context of a district showing substantial improvements.
  • As CPS district leadership thinks about supporting neighborhood schools, this evaluation highlights specific challenges, including the capacity for school staff to be ready to serve a continually shifting population of students.