Competition and Partnerships Are Keys to Chicago Renaissance Plan

Published October 1, 2004

When Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley in June announced his Renaissance 2010 school reform plan to close 100 underperforming public schools and reopen a majority of them as charter and contract schools over the next six years, the Civic Committee of The Commercial Club of Chicago responded enthusiastically and pledged to support the mayor’s initiative, in part by raising up to $25 million in private startup funds for the new schools. Other groups would raise another $25 million.

One-third of the 100 new schools will be run by the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), but two-thirds will be independent charter and contract schools with locations targeted for inner-city areas where education needs are the greatest. Being charter and contract schools, the new schools will be publicly funded, privately managed, and free of many of the restrictions that limit traditional school operations–including the teacher union contract. That greater freedom will be tempered by a contract with a higher priority: A performance contract holding all the new schools strictly accountable for student educational outcomes.

“This model will generate competition and allow for innovation,” said Daley. “It will bring in outside partners who want to get into the business of education. It offers the opportunity to break the mold. It gives parents more options and will shake up the system.”

The new schools will be half elementary and half secondary, with enrollment limited to about 500 students. Most will be neighborhood schools, designed to serve their surrounding communities. The 2010 plan calls for opening new schools at the rate of approximately 20 per year, twice the pace the city has achieved since 1997 with charter schools, contract schools, and new or replacement schools.

“Chicago is taking the lead across the nation in remaking urban education,” said Civic Committee Chairman Andrew J. McKenna. “No other major city has launched such an ambitious public school choice agenda.”

The “Renaissance” model for turning around underperforming schools was developed two years ago, when Williams and Dodge elementary schools were closed for a year. Reopened last fall with new leadership, new staff, and new outside partners, both schools have achieved dramatic gains in test scores this year.

“We must face the reality that, for schools that have consistently underperformed, it’s time to start over,” said the Mayor, who cautioned the city and CPS could not make the initiative a success without the assistance of the private sector.

That assistance, in the form of financial and technical support, will be provided through a new organization called New Schools for Chicago, created by the Civic Committee in partnership with national and local foundations, the Chicago Public Education Fund, and others. The Civic Committee’s members are leaders of 75 of the Chicago area’s largest corporations.

“We believe that New Schools for Chicago will provide families with educational options and create a more competitive environment–which will lead to higher academic standards and greater accountability in all public schools,” said Civic Committee President R. Eden Martin. “For over 10 years we have been working together with our affiliate Leadership for Quality Education to introduce and then support independent public schools in Chicago.”

Daley’s plan represents a major advance for the Civic Committee’s efforts to improve the quality of Chicago’s public schools. A sobering report from the Committee in July 2003 said significant gains in student achievement in Chicago’s public schools were unlikely to occur without “increasingly large doses” of competition. Their recommendation: Create at least 100 new charter or contract schools.

George A. Clowes ([email protected]) is managing editor of School Reform News.

For more information …

Further details of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley’s Renaissance 2010 school reform plan are available online at

A copy of the Civic Committee’s July 2003 report, “Left Behind: Student Achievement in Chicago’s Public Schools,” may be obtained from the Web site of the Commercial Club of Chicago at