An independent study of Chicago's schools shows that tens of thousands of children in the city do not have access to adequately performing schools.
Researchers at IFF, formerly known as the Illinois Facilities Fund, found "both measurable improvement and areas of continued substantial need" in Chicago Public Schools. They based their conclusions on a comparison of the district in 2008 versus 2004, when the nonprofit issued its first "Here and Now" report.
"Once you look past those improvements, there are still huge concentrations of need in the city," says Jose Cerda III, director of public policy and communications at IFF. "We still have a way to go."
Researchers used the Illinois state standard to determine whether elementary and high schools were performing adequately. In 2008, that meant at least 62.5 percent of students had to meet or exceed the state standard state achievement tests.
The study, released last week, focused on "performing capacity," or the supply of classroom seats at adequately performing schools. Researchers looked at the availability of those seats in each of Chicago's 77 community areas.
They found that reform efforts added more than 46,500 adequately performing elementary-school seats in the district. New charter, contract and performance schools gave nearly 14,000 students the option to attend a performing elementary school in many of Chicago's high-need community areas.
But even with increased performing capacity, almost 100,000 elementary-school children still need access to a better-performing elementary school. The study also found that none of Chicago's 63 area high schools met the 2008 Illinois standard of performance, so nearly 57,000 students attending those schools do not have access to a perfoming public school.
Most of the city's elementary schools feed students to high schools where less than 30 percent of the students test at the 2008 Illinois state standard.
"It would be a terrible shame to lose the progress we've made over the last four years by not giving them a performing high school option," Cerda says. "Until we have neighborhood high schools, that is the situation that threatens to undermine the progress we're making in elementary schools."
The study also shows pockets of the city where students have markedly fewer options than their counterparts elsewhere in the district. The top 25 areas in need of performing capacity were primarily in Chicago's south and west sides, and of those communities, 17 were considered high-need in 2004 as well.
In all, the 25 neediest areas lack nearly 79,400 well-performing seats.
"Our primary recommendation with all this is to, really, take the tools that we have, especially Renaissance 2010, and make them more place-based," Cerda says.
The Renaissance 2010 initiative launched in June 2004 with the goal of creating new, high-quality schools in the district. So far, 73 new schools have opened under the program, and officials issued the annual request for proposals earlier this month.
District spokesman Malon Edwards says officials used the previous IFF report to guide the program. The district has also replaced top staff at underperforming schools and closed others entirely, a controversial policy.
While those moves have helped improve the quality of education at the district, Edwards says, they have not solved all problems.
"Our main goal as a district is to make sure that every child in the district has a high-quality education option in their neighborhood," Edwards says. "We're not there yet, and we know we have a long way to go."