Research Reports

Progress and Promise: Chicago's Nation-Leading Educational Gains



Groundbreaking research was released on November 1, 2017 that showed Chicago Public School students make faster academic gains than students in 96% of school districts in America. Not only that, more CPS students are graduating from high school, going to college, and earning degrees, the data show.

This progress, which often gets lost in the negative narrative about Chicago Public Schools, was on full display November 2, 2017 when the Joyce Foundation and the Spencer Foundation hosted a forum that brought together preeminent researchers, educators, funders and policymakers to discuss the findings and share thoughts on what’s driving the gains. Attendees also discussed what needs to happen to and speed up the progress and ensure students, especially those of color and those who live in poverty, are ready for college and career success.

At the forum, Sean Reardon, Professor of Poverty and Inequality in Education at Stanford University, presented new research that shows CPS elementary school students make six years’ worth of learning gains in five years. This growth outpaces virtually every other district in America. Research also was presented that shows CPS students are powering the academic gains at the state level.

Education experts offered many reasons for progress, including the district’s laser focus on improving teacher and principal quality, and the close ties to the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research. The Consortium researches virtually every CPS policy. District leaders, principals and teachers have embraced the research and used it to alter course when policies are not working or double-down when they are. The enthusiastic adoption of the Consortium’s Freshman On-Track research is one example of research that led to good things for kids. In 2006, 61% of CPS freshman were on track to graduate high school. In 2016, 88% were on track.

To build off the momentum, experts suggested a deeper commitment to birth to five learning, provide teachers and principals more time to collaborate around learning goals, help guide more students to and through college, and counter the false narrative about the district.


In early November of 2017, the Joyce Foundation and the Spencer Foundation convened a group of Chicago’s civic and educational leaders to discuss research findings that reflect on the root causes of CPS improvement and to start a conversation on next steps for research, practice, and policy.

View video of the forum below:

In early April 2018, Beth Swanson, Vice President of Strategy & Programs at the Joyce Foundation, joined thought leaders from the Center for American Progress, the Education Trust, Chicago Public Schools, the University of Chicago, and the Chicago Fund for Education for a half-day symposium discussing Chicago's educational gains.

View video of the panel below:

Media Coverage


About The Joyce Foundation

Joyce is a nonpartisan, private foundation that invests in evidence-informed public policies and strategies to advance racial equity and economic mobility for the next generation in the Great Lakes region.

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