UChicago CCSR Releases Full Report on Turning Around Low-Performing Schools

February 18, 2013

New schools that opened in the buildings of Chicago Public Schools closed for underutilization served students from more distant, less disadvantaged neighborhoods than the neighborhoods students came from before clo­sure, according to the full report on turning around low-performing schools released by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research.

Turnaround, a reform strategy for chronically low-performing schools promoted by U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, involves replacing the principal and at least 50 percent of a school’s staff. Of the 129 CPS schools preliminarily under consideration for closing in 2013, eight have been turnarounds in previous years.

The initial summary report released in 2012 found that four years after undergoing dramatic reform efforts such as turnaround, very low-performing elementary schools in Chicago closed the gap in test scores with the system average by almost half in reading and two-thirds in math. Importantly, these improvements took time to develop—test scores were not significantly better in the first year of reform, but grew larger over time.

High schools that underwent reform did not show significant improvements in absences or ninth grade on-track-to-graduate rates over matched comparison schools; however, recent high school efforts look more promising than earlier ones.

The study examined five different reform models initiated by the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) in 36 elementary and high schools identified as chronically low performing. The five reform models were: Reconstitution; School Closure and Restart; School Turnaround Specialist Program; Academy for Urban School Leadership; and Office of School Improvement. Each is consistent with one of the four improvement models recommended by the federal government (turnaround, transformation, restart, and school closure).

Changes in student populations varied across reform models. Schools that underwent these reforms and remained neighborhood schools generally served the same students, and the same types of students, as before intervention. Schools that were closed and replaced with charter or contract schools generally served more advantaged students after intervention. The teacher workforce after intervention across all models was more likely to be white, younger, and less experienced.

The report's new section on schools closed for underutilization shows that: 

  • In about three-fourths of the cases, the buildings of the closed schools housed other new schools after a few years of the closing. Most of those new schools were designated as magnet or charter schools.       
  • In the majority of cases, the schools that opened in the buildings of schools closed for underutilization served students from neighborhoods that were farther away from the school and less disadvantaged than the neighborhoods students came from before clo­sure. The student body of the newly opened schools generally contained fewer students requiring special education services or old for grade, and students tended to have higher prior achievement levels.
Read the full report >>