Something IS Working

There is a lot going wrong in Chicago right now.  Violence seems to be an unsolvable mystery.  We can’t quite get fair school funding from the state.  A teacher strike is looming and, let’s face it, the Bears look terrible.  But, there are glimmers of hope for those of us who still believe in Chicago and those of us who believe that education is one of the key ingredients a in recipe to make our great city even greater.

The other day, Chicago Public Schools announced that students had achieved the highest collective ACT scores in the history of the district.  At an average score of 18.4, CPS high school students were less than 2 points behind the national average of 20.  That’s progress.

Chicago’s high school students are not only getting better scores on the ACT, the test that many colleges and universities use in their acceptance decisions, but they are graduating high school at a higher rate.  It wasn’t too long ago that barely half of Chicago’s high school students went on to gain a diploma.  Today, that number is 73.5 percent.  That is progress.

And the good news is not isolated to high schools.  According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Chicago’s fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math test score improvements are among the best in the country.  Neighborhood schools are leading the way in this growth.  Improving in growth means one thing: we are on the right track.  That is progress.

And our school environments are improving.  With violence rampant in the streets, the public schools have become a safe haven where young people can feel safe inside the doors.  This is due in large part to the implementation of restorative justice practices in Chicago Public Schools.  Out of school suspensions are down 67 percent over the past four years.  You guessed it: progress.

This is not to say that everything is great in our schools.  Clearly they are not.  But even though we have a long way to go, it is important from time to time to stop and smell the roses.  And guess what?  There are some roses to smell.

Stop.  Celebrate.  Then, get back to work.

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Chris Butler is first a husband and a dad. He has been involved across the spectrum of public engagement activities and has worked with a number of diverse constituencies in urban and suburban communities. He has also been involved in several political campaigns including his service as a youth and young adult coordinator for Barack Obama’s primary bid for U.S. Senate. Chris worked as deputy campaign manager and field director for A+ Illinois where he developed a strong, statewide field operation including over 500 organizations and 50,000 individuals around the state working to bring adequacy and equity to Illinois’ school funding system and as the director of advocacy and outreach at New Schools for Chicago, a leader in school reform in Chicago. Chris is a 2006 graduate of the Ministry Training Institute and holds a degree in civic and political engagement from Northeastern Illinois University.