A Chicago educator reviews a student's work

Chicago Public Schools: Connecting Challenging Lessons to Students’ Lives

08/18/2023

Written by Laura Troxel

Chicago Public Schools: Connecting Challenging Lessons to Students’ Lives

Chicago Public Schools wants to ensure “every student in every school has access to a high-quality curriculum that engages their interest and celebrates their diversity.”

For years, educators in Chicago used different materials or designed their own, creating unpredictability around what students would experience even in the same school. With the growing availability of high-quality materials today, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) wanted to close this gap while also taking expectations for materials further.

Skyline Curriculum

In response to their teachers’ requests for more consistent materials, CPS came up with an innovative solution: they would create their own rigorous, Chicago-specific curriculum called Skyline and make it available to all their schools and teachers. A high-quality curriculum takes out the guesswork for teachers about what they should be teaching, so they can use their creativity to meet students’ unique strengths. Skyline not only builds upon grade-level standards and learning science but also uniquely aims to reflect the identities and experiences of Chicago’s students.

Chicago leaders collaborate during COVID
Chicago school leaders and teacher leaders discuss progress and next steps from Skyline-based professional learning.

In the Fall of 2021, CPS began to roll out Skyline with Leading Educators’ help. The challenge was maintaining access to differentiated, grade-level content while teachers internalized a brand-new curriculum. If successfully adopted, it has the potential to equalize opportunities for students to do challenging and relevant work in ways few districts have tried.

Change Takes Time

Change is rarely linear, and Chicago Public Schools wasn’t starting from scratch with implementing new materials. The district has partnered with Leading Educators around teacher leadership development and professional learning since 2017, focusing on ensuring teachers have the deep content knowledge and the structures to continuously improve. This work improved the frequency of content-based learning and collaboration and access to coaching across subsets of schools, but individual sites were still using different curricular materials.

“When the partnership started, we would typically meet with teams of teachers and leaders from partner schools to go over lessons, and then would then go back and work with teachers at their schools. However, school closures during the pandemic made protecting time for teacher learning difficult. In Fall 2021, teacher learning took a more narrow focus on how to scaffold lessons so students would have uninterrupted access to grade-appropriate lessons even as teachers figured out how to re-pace,” says Claudine Andrews, Senior Program Director for Chicago.

“We worked with teachers to teach at grade level and not spend an entire year remediating content from the previous year.”

Results

  • By spring, 73 percent of teachers observed were using Skyline materials.
  • All teachers could name new understandings around Skyline and some next steps for planning lessons.
  • In math, students were engaging in grade-level learning more than twice as much as at the beginning of the year.
  • In 60 percent of ELA classrooms, teachers were regularly using complex grade-level texts.

Looking Ahead

Chicago Public Schools and Leading Educators continue to work closely on Skyline implementation. Next year, they’ll refine the focus on garnering teacher and leader investment in the curriculum and designing professional development that helps teachers and school leaders use it effectively.

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