For more than a century, the Commercial Club and Civic Committee have recognized the importance of quality education to Chicago’s vitality and to the well-being of all of its people. A strong public school system is a hallmark of a world-class city where people want to live, work, and build their futures.
In the late 1990s and into the early 2000s, only about one in two Chicago Public Schools’ students graduated from high school. Many students dropped out and even more failed to achieve college- and career-readiness. Driven by the urgency that far too many students were being left behind, we have been a key partner with the City of Chicago in transforming Chicago Public Schools from a struggling urban district to a powerful example of how ambitious strategies and a commitment working together can support success for all students—from every background or zip code. We have been a driving force behind multiple city- and state-wide initiatives aimed at improving equitable education funding, school quality and accountability, and teacher and principal quality.
To bolster student achievement and significantly improve Chicago’s public education ecosystem, the Civic Committee led the passage of mayoral control of Chicago’s schools in 1995 as well as landmark education reform efforts in 1998. The Civic Committee also supported charter school reform legislation in 1996 that paved the way for an era of sustained educational progress to follow. We led the Governor’s Commission on School Funding which resulted in a revised school-funding formula in 1997. And, in 2004, we launched the Renaissance Schools Fund, later New Schools for Chicago, whose goal was to catalyze dramatic academic improvement within Chicago Public Schools (CPS) through the creation and expansion of innovative new public school models.
The Renaissance Schools Fund served as a collaborative public-private partnership that propelled new school creation, functioned as the accountability partner to CPS in the school selection process, and enabled greater choice for families and autonomy for schools. Most important, it provided many underserved communities and families with high-quality educational options that were previously denied to them.
In 2014, New Schools for Chicago took time to update its strategy reflecting on its impact to date and determining the next stage of work needed to drive continued improvement for Chicago students. In 2015, the organization shifted its emphasis from opening new schools to addressing families’ barriers to quality education options within Chicago’s public education system. Their work today, operating as Kids First Chicago, focuses on empowering communities and families with the information and tools to identify, navigate, and advocate for quality public schools for their students and communities; and, with parent input and district leadership, shaping education policy to better support all families. In response to its new focus, New Schools for Chicago relaunched as Kids First Chicago in 2018. Kids First Chicago provides transparent and rigorous education analysis to families, educators, and policymakers alike to inform data-driven and inclusive decision-making about the future of Chicago’s PK-12 public schools.
With Kids First Chicago's contributions since 2004, Chicago has seen record gains in student outcomes and has become a national exemplar for urban school improvement. CPS students outpace 96% of other districts nationally in academic growth and, according to a Stanford study, achieve six years of growth in just five years.
Education also is a key focus area of the Civic Consulting Alliance (CCA). Their projects focus on creating educational systems that provide access to living-wage career paths for every student and enable growth of an economy where everyone can succeed. CCA’s STEM initiative brought together multiple stakeholders to launch Early College STEM Schools where students could earn a high school diploma and an associate’s degree at no cost to the student.
A major initiative for the Civic Consulting Alliance has been the restructuring of the City Colleges of Chicago to improve the quality of education and provide students with degrees of economic value.
For nearly a decade, CCA has worked in collaboration with the City, business partners, and educational leaders to reinvent the City Colleges. The success of the effort is clear: the number of degrees granted is growing; graduation rates have tripled; and operations are running more smoothly.
In addition to our affiliated organizations’ efforts, the Civic Committee itself has studied student learning, the State educational funding system, and the importance of quality teachers. We have released comprehensive studies on these topics. Across all of our organizations, we have produced the following reports:
Still Left Behind (2009)
Left Behind (2003)