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Pedro Martinez speaking behind podium

Chicago Public Schools Chief Education Officer Bogdana Chkoumbova joins CPS CEO Pedro Martinez in announcing the rising district graduation rates Tuesday at Dyett High School on the South Side. Joining them were officials that included Mayor Brandon Johnson and U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, who joined through a video stream.

Anthony Vazquez

Bump in CPS grad rates hailed by mayor, education officials

Chicago Public Schools students graduated at a slightly higher rate last spring than in previous years, once again reaching a record high.

The modest improvement from an 82% graduation rate in 2022 to 84% this year represents a continued increase since a decade ago, when that rate sat at 59%.

“Each and every one of these data points represents real students with real dreams and real achievements, and we could not be more proud of them,” CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said.

“This class of ’23, their freshman year ended June of 2020, and remember what happened March of 2020,” he said, referencing the start of the coronavirus pandemic. “Remember also how they started their sophomore year. I want you to take these results and put them in that context.”

Martinez announced the achievements Tuesday at Dyett High School on the South Side with a group of officials that included Mayor Brandon Johnson and U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, who joined through a video stream, as a few dozen educators and students watched in a crowded studio room.

Leaders said 65% of graduates this year enrolled in college, which is a slight increase from the past couple of years but still lower than pre-pandemic days. About 89% of CPS ninth graders are deemed “on track” to graduate based on their success in their first year of high school, a measure that researchers say is a telling indication of positive outcomes.

“CPS is raising the bar in education,” Cardona said. “Like many, this district has historically faced some real challenges. ... But the results we’re seeing here are promising signs for the future of education in Chicago even despite the impacts of the pandemic.

“In education policy, sometimes there can be a tendency to gravitate toward the shiny new initiatives that make a lot of noise but have little chance of being effective and sustainable for the long term,” he said. “In Chicago, you’ve rejected that mindset. You made a plan and doubled down on the investments we know work.”

Officials cited the hiring of more social workers and counselors, preservation and creation of specialty programs, early college credit programs, and career and technical education as methods that have helped student achievement. Many of those initiatives and programs have been infused with resources from federal pandemic relief funding, which runs out next school year, exposing a nearly $400 million structural deficit.

District leaders and Board of Education members have warned for more than a year that the resources that have helped turn around these metrics cannot continue without more funding from state and federal officials.

Johnson said these gains “didn’t happen overnight. It happened with tremendous struggle.” He cited schools like Dyett, which was itself only saved from closure because of a parent-led hunger strike a decade ago. Now it’s one of about 20 so-called “sustainable community schools” that have partnerships with community organizations and support both students and their families with resources. It’s a model that Johnson, the Chicago Teachers Union and many advocates have pushed to expand around the city.

“Data doesn’t tell the whole story,” Johnson added. “We know that these gains have not been felt equally across the entire city. And so despite today’s inspiring announcement, we know that too many of our schools are still suffering from the effects of historic disinvestment and disempowerment.”

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