Improving High Schools
CPS has outstanding college and career preparatory programs and is a national leader in raising its graduation rate.
Our high school strategy will build on that success and work to ensure that all students have a high quality,
open-enrollment high school option within three miles of their homes. The high school strategy has three areas
of focus: equity in access, excellence and advocacy.
Many families find the CPS high school admissions process stressful and burdensome, as gaining admission to a choice
school often requires multiple applications, each with different requirements and deadlines. In late spring,
students may receive multiple offers or be consigned to wait lists, creating uncertainty for families and delaying
some class scheduling and planning for schools that are unsure of who will be enrolled in their freshman class.
In addition, this process can lead to inequities, as some families have more time and resources to navigate the
To address these issues, CPS is working with high school principals and civic leaders to simplify the high school
application and enrollment process.
(Charter schools will be encouraged to participate). As part of
the process, families will rank their preferences for schools, and students will receive a single best offer
to the best school they ranked and are eligible to attend. This single application will allow more incoming freshmen
to be matched quickly to a school of their choice, while high schools will know the makeup of their incoming
freshman class sooner. In both cases, important planning for the next school year can begin earlier and with
more confidence. Simplifying high school enrollment will create more equitable access to schools of choice for
families who are unable to navigate a complex process.
The heart of a high quality high school education includes a strong core curriculum, effective classroom instruction
and classroom assessments that allow teachers to monitor student progress and adjust their instruction so that
all students can achieve. They are inextricably linked and, with proper and sustained support and development,
can propel student achievement to higher levels. To further strengthen the work around instruction and create
high expectations for academic rigor, the Office of Network Support and the Office of Teaching and Learning will
provide individualized support to high schools. To do so, schools will specifically engage in Instructional Core
walks in which school, network and district leaders observe instruction in many classrooms and then reflect on
strengths and weaknesses. Schools will also be guided to analyze the results of classroom observations and assessments
to pinpoint areas of weakness and plan improvements. Instructional Core walks ensure schools engage in cycles
of continuous improvement, which align to the school’s Continuous Improvement Work Plan (CIWP), and the principal
University and corporate partnerships can invigorate neighborhood high schools with new ideas, resources and learning
opportunities for students. Many high schools are already improving teaching and leadership with coaching from
university experts. Others have partnered with local employers, such as engineering or construction companies,
that can advise on career curricula, lead career-related activities and field trips or even provide internships
for interested students. While some CPS high schools have many deeplyinvolved partners, others have none.
To truly develop 21st Century skills in our students and better prepare them for today’s workforce, CPS has sought
to create many STEM opportunities, including the program
“Engineering Futures.” This initiative has paired eight CPS high schools with corporate engineering partners
to provide robust services and experiences in engineering to students.
Through both grants and in-kind services, these organizations have immersed more than 1,600 students in the field
of engineering. They have provided guidance on our pre-engineering curriculum, offered professional development
to teachers, and funded the creation of “makerspace” labs in our schools. These partners have also invited
our students to experience hands-on, project-based learning in authentic workplace environments. At Bowen
High School, for example, their partnership with Accurate Engineering Group allowed students to tour a geothermal
facility to learn how concrete foundations are prepared for building bridges. The students then worked with
Accurate engineers, and with the sponsorship from Siemens Technologies, entered a bridge building contest
to put their learning to work.
By rooting our students in the STEM experience, where they focus on collaborative problem-solving, we are helping
develop the skills that will be attractive to their future employers. For this reason, our goal is to expand
our corporate and philanthropic partnerships to include more CPS students in these opportunities districtwide.
Offering college-level coursework in high school better prepares students for college, and allows them to earn college
credits for free or at a reduced cost. For young people pursuing a trade, earning career certification in high
school can provide confidence, direction and a head start on their futures—not to mention experience attractive
to future employers.
In 2015, 41 percent of CPS high school seniors earned college credit or career certification. To provide the same
opportunity to all students, we will expand college and career programs equitably to high schools across the
city and strengthen existing programs.
International Baccalaureate (IB) programs offer a chance to earn college credit through advanced coursework in
literature, social science, mathematics, science, world or classical language, career studies and the arts. Many
elementary schools now offer a Primary Years and Middle Years IB program to prepare students for the high school
Advanced Placement (AP) courses also allow high school students to earn college credit.
, while improving pass rates from 44 percent to 51 percent. This gives
more CPS students the opportunity to be ahead of their peers in their first year of postsecondary study, putting
them on a faster track toward graduation.
Early College STEM programs prepare students for future employment in the fast-growing areas of computer programming,
information technology and computer networking. Students are able to work with leading industry professionals,
acquire industry certifications and earn significant college credit. Many will earn associate degrees from City
Colleges of Chicago along with their high school diplomas. With only a few years under way since its inception
in 2012-2013, Early College STEM programs now enroll 5,700 students.
Dual Credit and Dual Enrollment allow students to earn both high school and college credit simultaneously in
a variety of subject areas. Dual Credit courses are available at 65 high schools through a partnership with City
Colleges of Chicago, while Dual Enrollment courses are available at participating colleges and universities to
any qualified junior or senior in CPS. During its inaugural year of 2011- 2012, there were 720 students enrolled
in Dual Credit or Dual Enrollment.
Career and Technical Education programs prepare students for good jobs in 12 industries through rigorous coursework,
pre-apprenticeships, internships and a chance to earn industry certification while still in high school. More
than 17,000 CPS students already are enrolled. This year we have developed a new model for Career and Technical
Education, creating a regional center at Dunbar high school with afternoon classes open to juniors and seniors
attending high school anywhere in the city. The program, called Chicago Builds, offers four construction career
pathways, including carpentry and electrical work.
CPS has the largest network of military academies of any school district in the country—boasting six Service Leadership
Academies (SLAs), one SLA within a school and 38 Service Leadership/JROTC schools. Students in these programs
have the opportunity to earn early college credit if they pass their junior and senior level JROTC courses with
a “C” or above. To ensure that military academies are aligned with the job force, college, and military training
demands of today, we are expanding STEM offerings (such as more courses in coding and cyber security) at Service
Leadership Academies and in JROTC programs. Next year, with support from the Driskill Foundation, the Air Force
Academy will be adding in new flight simulators and a mock air traffic control center so students can have more
real-world and STEM-related experiences while in high school. With the support of our generous funders and innovative
principals, we hope to expand on these and other opportunities for our students.
School and district decisions that directly affect students are often improved when students have a voice in shaping
CPS Student Advisory Council, facilitated in partnership with the Mikva Challenge, is a group of engaged
high school student leaders who work directly with CPS leadership to provide a student voice on district policies
and develop district recommendations to improve school culture and student learning. At the local level, 50 high
Student Voice Committees, along with 20 elementary schools, to advise on school policies and practices. CPS
will encourage more high schools to form committees that give students a voice in school improvement.
Doing so will benefit our schools
today and develop young people’s advocacy skills so that they are better able to contribute to our city in the
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It’s very cool to see students take that leadership and step forward by themselves or with the group
to change the school that they go to. Like, this is a problem, I want to fix it, this is how we’re going
to fix it.