How Improvement Principles In-Action Can Transform a Public Education System

75-min | In-Person

This session highlights lessons drawn from a new Carnegie Foundation book, How a City Learned to Improve Its Schools. In 1987 Chicago was among the most troubled school systems in America. In 2017 it ranked among the most improved. We describe how a broad swath of Chicagoans committed to equity work, sustained that effort across decades, and evolved an improvement orientation that contributed to systems transformation. The session begins by introducing the main themes that shaped Chicago’s story. Many of its major improvements started small, focused in on specific high leverage processes, and engaged both those doing the work and those immediately affected by it. These efforts were informed by ongoing analyses of variation in effects, anchored in research-based evidence, and drew on district partnerships with multiple local organizations and institutions to move from productive first steps to scale effectively. We then look in depth at one of these efforts: how the invention of the concept of OnTrack gave rise to new understandings and new practices in high schools. This work shifted mindsets about what was possible for students and the educators who worked with them to achieve and resulted in large-scale improvements in high school success and college going. During table group discussions that follow, participants will have an opportunity to consider how the improvement principles identified in the OnTrack case might relate to their own work.


Timothy Knowles, President, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching
Steve Tozer, Professor Emeritus, University of Illinois Chicago
Albert Bertani, Senior Fellow, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching
Sharon Greenberg, Improvement Advisor, Sharon Greenberg, Inc.
Penny Sebring, Co-Founder, UChicago Consortium on School Research
Anthony Bryk, Senior Fellow & Former President, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching


March 24–27, 2024


Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina