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 to 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.
Beginning in the 1990s, the Civic Committee led many efforts to bolster student achievement and significantly improve Chicago’s public education ecosystem, including the passage of mayoral control of Chicago’s schools in 1995, landmark education reform efforts in 1998, and 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. 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 which has made it a national exemplar for urban school improvement. A 2017 Stanford study showed how CPS students had outpaced 96% of other districts nationally in academic growth.
During 2020, Kids First Chicago has become a national model for engaging parents and sustaining learning amidst the global pandemic. K1C's unique approach centers on engaging deeply with families and parents, elevating their education needs, and supporting parent-led advocacy.
K1C was a leading partner behind the launch of Chicago Connected -- currently the nation's largest initiative of its kind to connect 100,000+ students and their households to free internet service, enabling remote learning and much more. Chicago Connected emerged out of K1C's direct outreach to families most impacted by COVID, coupled by its rich data analysis that demonstrated the scale of the digital divide.
Education also is a key focus area of the Civic Consulting Alliance, with a vision to advance an education system that provides equitable access to opportunity for all Chicago students and prepares them for lifelong success.
Recent impact includes: launch of Early College STEM Schools where CPS students can earn a high school diploma and an associate’s degree at no cost to the student; systemic change to achieve the Mayor’s vision to implement Universal Pre-K (UPK) by the 2021-2022 school year, ensuring a move to a single early learning system that is easier for families to navigate and ensures more children have access to these critical services; refinement of a new, coordinated strategic planning approach to support CPS in achieving its 2019 Five-Year Vision, with a focus on achieving a more equitable education system.
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, Civic Consulting Alliance 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.
Kids First Chicago regularly contributes new data and new thinking to inform educational improvement efforts in Chicago and elsewhere. The Civic Committee and Civic Consulting Alliance have also studied and work to implement changes across the educational landscape, including in areas such as student learning, school funding, and teacher quality. Select reports include the following:
Still Left Behind (2009)
Left Behind (2003)