Reform History

main1_1.jpgReform History is aimed at helping readers see the broad arc of school reform in Chicago. It includes selected articles from Catalyst as well as articles published elsewhere. It also includes school news briefs dating back to 1985. We welcome your suggestions for additions and improvements. Send an e-mail to

Selected Articles

Consortium study says little improvement in elementary students over two decadesA 2011 study by the Consortium on Chicago School Research finds that there has been no significant improvement in the key area of elementary school reading achievement, and that the racial gap has worsened since the advent of school reform two decades ago.

It Takes More Than A MayorThis 2004 article analyzes the forces that have driven school reform in Chicago.

Mayor Washington Gets the Ball RollingA short analysis of the role of the late Mayor Harold Washington in school reform.

School Reform Chicago Style: How Citizens Organized to Change Public PolicyMary O'Connell leads readers through the 1980s' movement to decentralize the Chicago Public Schools -- one of the city's largest, most successful community organizing campaigns. In addition to creating local school councils, the campaign planted the seeds for a number of today's reforms, including filling teacher vacancies without regard to seniority and giving schools more autonomy. At the time, O'Connell was editor of "The Neighborhood Works," a newsmagazine published by the Center for Neighborhood Technology, which gave Catalyst permission to republish her 47-page book.

Reform Timeline

The Reform Timeline outlines major events in school reform history between 1979 and 2014.


The Arne Duncan Years

Arnie DuncanOn Dec. 16, 2008 President-elect Barack Obama nominated Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan as U.S. Secretary of Education. The night before, Catalyst Chicago posted the first in a series of analyses. Here are links to those stories.

Duncan's Track Record, Part One In his seven years as CEO of Chicago Public Schools, Arne Duncan has taken on a host of urban education policy challenges, to varying degrees of success, including high school reform, school choices accountability and transparency.

Chart: Achievement ups and downs

Duncan's Track Record, Part TwoThis installment of Catalyst's series on the record of Secretary of Education nominee Arne Duncan examines his efforts to raise the bar for principals, and what's still lacking for special education.

Duncan's track record, Part ThreeThis final installment of our series examines hits and misses in early childhood education, teacher quality and elementary education.

Decoding the District's Progress Report for 2008Chicago Public Schools put on its best face in 2008: Another Year of Strong Progress for Chicago’s Students– the district’s self-assessment of last year’s accomplishments and test score gains. But the rosy numbers mask a troubling reality, including decidedly mixed results on test scores at the showcase turnaround schools. On one measure – first-day attendance – the district is being disingenuous.

Catalyst In Depth: School Choice At the heart of Renaissance 2010, Mayor Daley's signature school reform initiative, is the belief that families and students should have a range of good educational options in their communities. But the neediest neighborhoods are still lagging behind, and a Catalyst analysis finds that a surprising number of black students are fleeing one low-performing school only to land at another one. The district’s free-for-all system for applying to schools makes it harder for families to make good choices.

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