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College and careers

An overhaul of the district’s career education programs seeks to make classes more challenging and put career-track students on the path to higher ed, but many schools have lost programs, and fewer students are participating overall.

Creating equity and excellence for all schools

In spite of its financial challenges, CPS must provide equity and excellence in education to all students, but especially to the students, families and communities who have the greatest need.

Challenging times in large urban districts are not uncommon. Reflecting over previous years at CPS, I recall difficult financial times years ago, when the school district faced extreme financial hardship and was unable to pay its bills. As a result, the School Finance Authority was created to oversee, scrutinize and monitor all district expenditures.

We do not want to have to return to that situation. We must all face this harsh reality and be in control of our financial destiny as a district. Currently, people question why so many difficult decisions had to be made, with the closing of schools and the reduction in school budgets. No one can deny the pain when employees lose their jobs and have to look elsewhere or retire. As a former principal of a community school and a father whose children attended their CPS neighborhood school, I understand and empathize with this dilemma. But whether we accept it or not, there is a big financial deficit and it must be addressed now.

In spite of these challenges, CPS must provide equity and excellence in education to all students, but especially to the students, families and communities who have the greatest need. The quality of an urban school district has to be based on the success rate of all children, but especially those who have to overcome the greatest number of challenges.

Many positive signs have emerged and others will be unveiled which will lead to an improved school district for all students. Among the positive signs:

  • Full-day kindergarten for all
  • Graduation rates, freshmen on-track and college scholarships are up
  • Curriculum and instructional support to implement Common Core standards
  • Teacher and principal leadership initiatives
  • Upgrades for neighborhood schools that welcomed displaced students
  • Expansion of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and International Baccalaureate programs
  • Expanded arts integration
  • Additional after-school programs
  • Safe Passage routes to keep children safe in troubled neighborhoods
  • Student achievement is on the rise at many schools
  • More district support for high-needs schools
  • More schools for dropouts who want to re-enter the system


Many more initiatives are being implemented, including a single accountability system for all schools, including charter and contract schools, based on academic growth. Several charters have been placed on the academic watch list. Big investments have been made in many neighborhood schools. 

For success to continue, leaders in all types of schools must collaborate to serve entire neighborhoods and engage community partners. They must also be instructional leaders and school community activists so that poverty and inequities can be ameliorated.

Successful neighborhood and community schools must be replicated. Schools must also establish outside partnerships instead of lamenting the outside, adverse influences on students. Perhaps some of the closed schools can be re-purposed along these lines as community service centers. Overcrowding relief in neighborhood schools must also be a priority.

Getting parents involved

But whatever changes are made in the system and in schools, there is another essential ingredient for achieving equity and excellence for all students: parent engagement.

Parent engagement can bring positive results such as higher grades and achievement, higher graduation rates, and more student motivation and self-esteem. Research has indicated that family participation is twice as predictive of students’ academic success as socio-economic status. The most consistent predictors of students’ academic achievement and social adjustment are parental expectations of academic success and parental satisfaction with their child’s school.

For parents to engage in their child’s education in meaningful ways, they must be aware of what students should know at different stages of learning and the support that is available to address learning gaps. Parents also need to know what support they should give at home. And the earlier parent involvement begins in a child’s schooling, the more powerful its effects.

But parents must perceive that their school wants them to be involved and will provide the guidance and support to make parent engagement happen. Local School Councils should also become fully aware of their school’s academic achievement status and share it with their school community, in order to fulfill their school governance responsibilities in a proactive manner.

We have to continue to address the disparities in opportunities which exist for so many students. Better articulation between grades, with appropriate staff development between middle grades and high schools, must be implemented.

We must also capitalize on our students’ cultural identities, to develop their academic identities and prepare them to be successful in post-secondary education. Academic identity is nurtured by how students perceive their school, their sense of personal connection to their education and their social interactions. It is a critical factor for academic achievement and motivation to succeed.

It is up to us as a broad school community to counterbalance the pessimism in some circles and concentrate on what education is about – optimism and hope, with concrete results. We must be engaged, not only during good times but also in challenging times. We must also take a stand for the quality of our public schools. After all, CPS has the highest-achieving schools in our state.

As Elizabeth Harrison, founder of National-Louis University said, “One of the chief joys of life has been to watch the sweep forward from the idea of education as a formal acquisition of materials and facts and philosophic theories to the most vital work of creative activity and the significance of community responsibility.”


Carlos M. Azcoitia, board member, Chicago Public Schools

Distinguished Professor of Practice, National-Louis University




CBW wrote 16 weeks 3 days ago

Sounds good!

You have my vote!

Oh, wait...

retired principal wrote 16 weeks 2 days ago

only hope you wrote this because u are considering running

for mayor dr. azcoitia or are you too drinking the kool-aide?
as a former principal, make this supes thing stop-at least do that
or wait...

Ms. Zamora wrote 15 weeks 5 days ago

Parental Involvement

Dr. Azcoitia,
The reality of “foundational level” funding and its source limits education. This reality is out of our hands and CPS financially reacted by consolidating and belt tightening. The closure of low performing school seems harsh but again necessary. Drastic moves drive dramatic outcomes, so yes I agree with many of the changes CPS had made to affect positive student growth. Parental engagement; I ask you, do teachers really want it?

No one tells parents what is being taught (curriculum map). Teachers don’t contact parents when a child gets an “F” on an assignment; they only return graded homework on report card pickup (folder). They enter student grades 3 days before report card entries are due. So how are parents informed and engaged? When you ask or bring this to the attention of the principal….well then the teachers pick on your kids. This is what is going on in my children’s elementary school, Linne. This is why there is no parental involvement we are not welcomed.

As a parent, how can I help my child succeed if the teacher’s door is shut? Communication is what drives parental involvement. It’s the teachers that say they want parental involvement but when they get it….well they don’t want it and feel intruded upon, and defensive.

The High Schools have their priorities right. At Lane, my kid takes a test it’s entered the same day; she's looking for it and engagement is truly two ways . GREAT JOB Lane Tech!!! Yes, I am a professional educator myself with all sorts of Lic: 75, 29, 03 and lots endorsements. I am a CPS parent and a parent advocate too.

You want parental involvement, open the doors to parents by creating a policy that requires teachers to return HW weekly, enter 30 grades (10 HW, 10 Quiz, 5 exam….etc) a cycle, and to notify parents of an “F” plus a give us quarterly syllabus so we know how to help our children. Have Miss Gurly look into IMPACT gradebook entry dates and the quantity of grades entered…’ll see I’m right.

You ran a wonderful school at Spry, a bi-lingual dual Elem and HS evening solution. I wish I had worked for you…but the little that I did see of you, Dr. A….your intentions on the BOE are to honestly help. I am asking for your help…..let the parents in!!!

Ms. Z
PAC- la Cubana

Joan Staples wrote 15 weeks 4 days ago

Equity in Education for All

The method of funding education, by property taxes, must end. It is an inequitable system. The development of elite schools, except for a few specialty schools, should be halted. CPS started the system of magnet schools to retain whites in the city. Now it is charter schools that are dividing the educational system into haves and have nots. All schools are entitled to special programs. When I taught at Gage Park High School 20 years ago, a general high schools, we had all kinds of special arrangements with community organizations. We also had social workers, nurses, and truant officers. The school was integrated under a lottery system, and it worked. Charter schools were supposed to be experimental and capable of modeling programs for regular public schools. They are now being used to take the place of regular public schools. The current CTU leadership is doing communitiy organizing, including communities that are often portrayed as not caring about education. CPS must do the same. The parents of my students, who had learning problems, cared about their children. They sometimes needed help to assist their children. It is disgraceful that we tend to starve and disrespect communities and schools who need the most help.

Yes, teacher training needs to be improved. But some of the best teachers in CPS in the past were educated in teachers' colleges. One of the basic problems, is that teachers are not respected in the U.S. as in some other countries, and there is not adequate screening and placement for teachers. Instead of more screening and training, we are hiring young people who may stick around for just a few years, and giving them less training. Would you want a doctor with little training and interest in the profession? I would be happy to debate some of our current Board members! (I retired from CPS in 1993; also taught in the suburbs and at a University.)

Daniel F. Bassill wrote 15 weeks 4 days ago

Using maps to support distribution of equal opportunities

How will you know that you have build a distribution of resources to create this equitable system?

I encourage you to browse the map library at to see how CPS, the Mayor, and Chicago business and philanthropic leaders might use maps to assure that resources are distributed consistently into all neighborhoods of the city, resulting in more equal learning opportunities in schools and non-school hours, for more of Chicago's youth.

I've been promoting the use of maps in the marketing and development of non-school tutor/mentor and learning programs for almost 20 years. I hope that at some point more leaders will adopt these tools in their own efforts.

Margy LaFreniere wrote 15 weeks 4 days ago

keep money in classrooms

One of the worst abuses of power in CPS is guiding principals to buy computer programs for "remediation"...programs like Study Island and Read 180. These programs are hugely expensive and take students away from more proven strategies like time with highly skilled teachers in small class settings. This issue of taking money out of classrooms is compounded by other CPS issues like increasing class sizes, overworked IEP case managers and other support staff, and inflexible curricula that make teachers feel powerless to serve children.

CPS needs to realign its priorities so more money and power stays in classrooms and less flows to outside interests.

Rodestvan wrote 14 weeks 6 days ago

Thanks to Mr Azcoitia for his

Thanks to Mr Azcoitia for his essay. Here are a couple of general thoughts. I agree with Mr. Azcoitia's comparison of the current fiscal crisis CPS is facing to the crisis in 1979 that led to the creation of the School Finance Authority that he referenced in the essay. But I am not sure that the executive team running CPS is in agreement with that analysis or that Mr Azcoitia's own votes are consistent with such a perspective.

Both Mr. Vitale the Board President and Mr. Cawley the district's Chief Administrative Officer have argued, most notably at the August 2013 Board meeting, that the current fiscal crisis of CPS is resolvable in a major manner by pension reform. In fact Mr. Cawley actually disputed a request from the Civic Federation for a multiple year fiscal plan arguing that there could be no path forward without pension reform first.

Fellow Board member Mr. Bienen publicly disputed that argument by Mr. Cawley, but proceeded to vote for a budget 13-0828-RS2 that had no multiple year plan to address the fiscal crisis of the district. Mr. Azcoitia also voted for that budget without comment relating to long term planning.
So if CPS is heading towards fiscal insolvency as Mr. Azocitia's essay implies unless the "big financial deficit" is addressed how can that be done if the district has no mulitple year plan beyond getting pension reform passed by the General Assembly (GA)?

A reform proposal that will reduce current payments into the CTPF by how much? A reform proposal modeled on the pension reform passed by the GA for the statewide teachers pension fund whose savings are heavily back loaded going out 30 years that may or may not free up much cash for the school district.

Rod Estvan

concerned teacher wrote 14 weeks 6 days ago

Thank you Mr. Estvan, you are correct- now student attendance

Substance has published a problem at Juarez with grades/attendance. Note that this is not the only school feeling horrible pressure from the CEO. CPS schools are all pressured with this new rating sysrtem. Teachers have been asked to do the impossible so one wonders about cheating or fudging. Schools used to need 95% attendance and this was possible to reach, now schools are a victim of success-we have to reach an impossible percentage or we will be even at lower level. Who can talk sense into BBB and the goofy guy she hired from Tenn?

Valerie F. Leonard wrote 14 weeks 5 days ago

Bring Back the School Finance Authority

We may have a better chance of getting out of this mess if the State brought back the School Finance Authority. We have seen that if left to its own devices, this Rahm-appointed Board of Education, including Mr. Azcoitia, will continue to make decisions that go against the best interest of the children; waste valuable resources and dismantle public schools while investing in untried charter schools and failed turnarounds run by friends of the Mayor and Board President.

concerned teacher wrote 14 weeks 3 days ago

Stop blaming teachers-Chicago Board of Ed must face reality

Read this "study" :
What it shows is that, are you ready for this: after adjusting for inflation, teachers make a little bit more now than in 1970! What a revelation! You know who makes A LOT more than they did in 1970? You guessed correctly: the right wing billionaire hedge fund owners and industrialists who fund Reboot Illinois, that's who! If you're not familiar with this tea party web site, Reboot Illinois is not much more than a propaganda weapon of the ruling class, used to demean unionized teachers and other government employees.

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