How to Continue the Improvement?

Published August 1, 2001

Mayor Richard M. Daley says he wants Chicago to have “the best school system possible” . . . but how can his new leadership team build on the efforts of Gery Chico and Paul Vallas to improve the city’s schools?

One place the mayor’s new team might look for answers is in Houston, where Secretary of Education Roderick Paige was superintendent before joining the Bush administration earlier this year.

In 1994, Paige introduced a reading program that requires every elementary school teacher to be trained in reading instruction and every student to be tested on reading proficiency before being promoted to the next grade. The district offers extensive summer and weekend classes to enhance inadequate reading skills. The aim is to have children reading on target by the end of first grade.

Paige’s program has been successful, according to a recent report from the Council of Great City Schools, called Beating the Odds. The report cited Houston as one of a small group of cities where the improvement in reading scores on state tests outpaced statewide improvements in all grades tested.

One highly successful reading instruction method is the Direct Instruction (DI) approach invented by Siegfried Engelmann. A demonstration of that method was launched some years ago in five Chicago schools, but then was dropped because–contrary to DI’s requirements–other reading instruction programs were implemented in the system’s literacy programs and in the city’s after-school and summer reading programs. According to Engelmann, DI officials were not given the control over program implementation that the contract called for.

Mayor Daley’s new team also could follow the example that New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani set earlier this year and take Chicago school officials on a visit to Milwaukee. In May, seven members of the New York City school board heard Milwaukee Mayor John O. Norquist, parents, and educators praise the voucher system and describe how it has improved the Milwaukee Public Schools by forcing them to compete for students and for tax dollars. The New York group met with Milwaukee schools superintendent Spence Korte, who regards choice as a spur that prompts public schools to improve.

For more information . . . The GEO Foundation of Indianapolis, Indiana, regularly hosts fact-finding trips to Milwaukee, Wisconsin for community leaders and parents to help them get answers to questions they have about school choice. Contact information is available at the Foundation’s Web site at, which also features a “virtual tour” of the Milwaukee school choice program, with presentations from school choice experts recorded on a recent tour.