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Q & A with Jackson & Duncan

The following interview panel took place at the Harris School of Public Policy with CEO of Chicago Public Schools Dr. Janice Jackson, former US Department of Education secretary under the Obama administration, and University of Chicago crime & education data laboratories, Professor Wolfe. The person speaking will be abbreviated as:

A = Arnie Duncan

J = Janice Jackson

W = moderator Prof. Wolfe

Arnie graduated from Harvard with a degree in Sociology, and was one of the few college pro-bowlers who played basketball throughout his high school and college years. He began a program for 17-24 year olds for assistance with career startups. Before becoming US Education Secretary under the Obama administration, he was part of the Chicago Public School executive leadership.

CEO, Dr. Janice Jackson, is a product of the system, rising through the ranks. She became a teacher, and then served as an outstanding principal. She brings unique policy initiatives and perspective to this conversation as a leader, and an insider. She was a rising star, and has now become the CEO of the entire district, and is also a parent of two CPS children.

University of Chicago professor, Wolfe will be moderating the dialogue and leading the discussion today at UC Harris School of Public Policy. He has been involved with the Crime & Education Labs, the implement of B.A.M. (Becoming A Man, program targeting adolescent black youth), and is also affiliated with Saga Education - a small group Math tutoring service that can help students improve their abilities by 1-2 grade-levels in a single year.


I'd like to begin with Dr. Jackson. You are a product of the system you now lead, teacher, principal, parent: perspective change? As a school leader, how has your vision for the system evolved?

High quality school options should be available in every neighborhood.

The "Doomed for, if not accepted" narrative has changed.

Choice in the system has dramatically improved for Chicago

Matriculation into college

Post secondary success & pathways have also increased

Pre-selection for students, was determined early in the student's career


You were an emerging super-star principal.

Change vs. don't change as they accumulate power

The system is never improving fast enough...

Psych violence - where every system has failed them: family, church, gov, and now school is failing kids that are going through the hardest times during school


When I think about the Progress that CPS has made

with the remarks made by a lady many years ago.

'Until I look around and see a good school near me, the system isn't working.'

Until then the work is not done

2011 - grad rate 57%

2019 - grad rate 79%

What initiatives were used to drive that change?

Chicago success story with

Consortium on Public schools @ University of Chicago

Decades of research and partnership with CPS

College going tenure was Arnie's start

"Freshmen on track" - as a HS principal, I felt I could do this

As a principal, I received information and data that made me feel empowered

Policies in the system that every student has a chance to succeed

Every student has to take the SATs to graduate now.

Educators and parents continue to ask students: what are you going to do after you graduate?

We want to protect dropouts from 8th grade and also cocoon 9th graders.


How do we know what works for our young people?

Arnie, federal & city level

Local control long history

What sort of levers could you pull between these two positions?


High poverty



The consortium

We called a meeting with 150 top administrators

Failing 1 vs. 3 vs. 5 classes

Massive shift between 8th & 9th grade

Not missing a day - finding the kid that is not there that day

We have to use the attendance data immediately finding the reason why kids are absent.

(This brings truancy rates down.)

Objective outside push

Local school control has been a history since America existed

Has some strength & has some whatever

The system is Built for inequity

40-50% of the funding is local; its based upon where you live - by differentiation - the haves, silver spoon, got more than twice as much money every year

- we lost a law suit because of the principle of local control

"Nobody would design the system the way it is if they truly cared about black and brown kids."

I have traveled through the 50 states.

If we think that great teachers and great principals matter... why aren't we putting them where they are needed the most?

Out of 15000 school districts throughout the country, each systemically identifies their most hardest working teachers. How many put them into the most challenging situations?

- The answer is zero -

None of the districts give their best for the most needed schools


Change and demographics

UIC study apples to apples comparison in the "Tale of three Cities" report.

On every single metric CPS was out-performing other districts in the state

Dis-parate funding

Evidence based funding formula beauty of that is 62 to 67% funding

Chicago now has a formula and metrics that they can look at

The schools that fall out of line will be first on the priority for funding; limited as it is:

IL is 49th / 50 states for public funding

50th - dead last - for low income funding

Enrollment is changing dramatically now.

[Choice and the common application address this somewhat.]

Big problem, we need to innovate

Principals are making choices every day

They should not be choosing between:

Art vs. music; world languages vs. computer class


Enrollment challenges

Chicago is declining in enrollment


Black middle class - reverse migration going back to the south because they are afraid of their kids getting shot

When you loose a stable black middle class

Who is left? the people who are struggling

More is better: social work, program, enrollment

They are safer in the south than in Chicago

What a strange reversal of history!


As a teen growing up,

basketball games going in and out of neighborhoods

On average we had a student killed 1 / 2 weeks

Not in school, but at the corner, on the bus, on the street

They are just trying to make it

They are living with a trauma that most of us will never experience.

This city gave me everything: socially, emotionally, academically

Sep 2016

500 most probable students to face gun violence program

Double digit reductions in violence

2 / 3 times more violent than LA


The young men are given employment opportunities

I have always believed that education is a pathway, a roadway out of poverty.

If we don't address the economic link -

If the men do not have a path

Discarding this group, we are addressing the root causes

The economic disadvantage of a group for centuries...

If we do not address the life changing issues -

It is hard to access that -

These are basic things

We have a firmer grip on reality

Although many schools have these services, its still very scarce:

Mental health, social emotional


Life coaches for the guys that come out of our program

One guy - freshmen would not change his clothes

Seen as stubborn and belligerent - but there was another issue.

His whole life is so different [from others].

Other neighborhoods are so tough

He committed a homicide... he narrates his personal experience, and how others saw him after serving time.


Let's talk about the issue of equity , meaning ?

foundational components is equity

Initiative launched


Leader of the district to put a stake in the ground:

Logistical and operational things:

We have budget

Hire diversity and inclusion budget

Chief equity officer with power

Framework for equity

Seems like an academic task

Because what it really means is

Someone has to give up something - that is the reality, not fluff

In order for them to change practice

10000 stake holders reached

Outlines policy, procedures, resources, allocating those resources from a tangible standpoint

The capital budget has to be approved by his office

The problem with this is:

Ex: capital

South and west side expenditure increased

Intangibles: schools must be warm, safe, and dry

New science labs, dis-able accessible

It’s the same map

Identify certain programs

Expand- focus and target communities


How do you support

Undoing the disparity we find in society

What are both of your takes on addressing seemingly intractable issues like

Segregation and Poverty?


Two years ago that was one of my top things: segregation. How do we make our schools more diverse?

You want to live reside and be in your school:

The same way you want a gas station, grocery store

South & West side students traveling the farthest to get an education

If these schools existed, students & parents would not choose the way they do

If I did not believe that education is a path out of poverty, [I would not have worked as hard as I did. Values.]

Go to school and take advantage:

What do we do, if we do not tell them to go to school?


Less schools and more community centers

Nobody is getting shot to & from schools

Schools are 12-14 hours / day

Parks should become safe too

If they need 3 meals day - let's give 'em 3 meals a day.

They need to get the eye exam at the school

GED, ESL, health center is connected...

100k schools in America

How well are we using them?

What are churches doing, what are nonprofits doing?


What advice do you have for public sector advice?

In a lot of spaces, I encourage students of color to become educators

Consortium data with CPS district

Network of college success

If they don't feel this is accessible

Grassroots from the ground up, policy changes are not going to work

Listen to real kids, parents, teachers, schools - actionable research

Chicago Beyond

Why am I always being researched?

Interesting take on how the people feel


Josephine Robins is concerned about levels of schools

Lived and worked in schools

Psych impact for kids in a level 3 school

Knowing that equity does not exist

Feeling ashamed of the schools that they go to...


When people don't know the level of their school- that is wrong

No matter where you land on that issue:

When you go to the community meetings... [people are shocked their school is closing down due to non-performance]

The elementary school that J went to was on that list

Parents did not know the school was failing their students

SQRP - ratings are [tabulated in myriad ways to be] more fair

Why is it that only certain parents can access the information that their schools are failing them?

They can go to magnet, charter, or other schools

You have to have a strong leader, and a teacher buy-in so that we can turn those schools around

[These were our justifications for releasing school ratings.]


Highlight cannot improve school system


Everyone has to come together

Chicago is unique

Fact that we have partnership with post-secondary institutions

Corporate + philanthropic community ties

Out of school time; year round opportunities

Becomes ugly when it turns political

Tug and pull of financial resources

CPS uses 4-5 different models for financial resources


There is a small % of kids that raise themselves

We know about them by kindergarten

When they miss 20% - that is a problem at home

Those are the future dropouts

Social services, / church should step in

12 year commitment to helping them get to a better place

The truth is we are not rallying behind those kids

Out of school time; year round opportunities

  • Quality science classes with labs

  • Full periods worth of work

  • Differentiated lesson plans


Mississippi teacher Harris Student

Face school closure

How do you activate spaces of post-school closure?


38 are repurposed

11 vacant - Bronzville & Englewood

Day-to-day expenditure is high for a school

We do not leave vacant buildings

That can be a draw for more criminal activities

Re-purpose plan


Sarah Harris student

Encourage and engage parents

A lot of effort 7 people show up for an open house

People working in our schools, they want the parents there;

Local parent meetings

Incumbent upon principal to feel that

J:When they have an hour - the non Starbucks parents will come in

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