Chicago Reforms To Get $40 Million From MacArthur

June 12, 1991 6 min read

By Ann Bradley

In the largest private-sector commitment ever made to precollegiate education in Chicago, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced last week that it will make $40 million in grants over 10 years to support the improvement of education there through greater community involvement.

“The foundation is wholeheartedly placing its trust in the genius and ability of Chicago’s local communities and schools to improve education in this city,” Adele Simmons, president of the Chicago-based foundation, said in announcing the initiative.

“We do not believe it can be done quickly,” she added. “We must all make a long-term commitment.”

Although the MacArthur program is by far the most extensive, two other recent commitments also seek to boost the school system’s nationally watched reform experiment, under which local school councils serve as the governing bodies for Chicago’s 540 schools.

The Illinois Bell Telephone Company and the Ameritech Foundation last week presented the councils of 26 city schools with a $10,000 award each in recognition of their achievements during the first year of the reform plan, while the Joyce Foundation recently awarded grants totaling approximately $250,000 to 53 schools to pursue their own projects.

“Major institutions in the city, like the MacArthur Foundation and the telephone company, are really taking a look at school reform and saying, ‘This is starting to work,”’ said Donald R. Moore, executive director of Designs for Change, a school-reform advocacy organization that will receive $300,000 over three years from the MacArthur Foundation as part of the initiative.

“We’re very encouraged that they recognize it’s going to take 10 years to really turn this system around,” Mr. Moore said.

John A. McDermott, director of urban affairs for Illinois Bell, said $1.2 million has been earmarked for his company’s awards program, which is expected to continue for at least three years. He added that officials were surprised at the number of applications and the quality of the schools’ achievements, which ranged from fixing leaky roofs to organizing volunteer security patrols to finding new space for classrooms.

“Only a few years ago, [former U.S. Secretary of Education William J.] Bennett called the Chicago public schools the worst in the country,” Mr. McDermott said. “We didn’t like that, but candidly, most people felt that if he was not right, he was close to right.”

“We’re not saying there have been miracles,” he continued, “but where there was absolute despair, now we are seeing all kinds of activity, life, and problem solving, with the local community having a sense of power over the situation.”

Communities Key to Program

The Chicago Education Initiative, as the MacArthur program is called, actually began with grants awarded in 1989. The foundation, which was a supporter of the initial efforts to organize Chicago residents on behalf of school improvement, subsequently decided to expand its grants-making program into a 10-year project.

The 11 new grants announced last week are part of a total of $3.6 million that has been awarded for 44 different projects since last year, according to the foundation.

Throughout the program, the foundation will seek to help community institutions and schools work together to improve education and, at the same time, “foster renewal in other areas,” such as housing, economic development, and race relations.

The initiative will support five types of activity: community-led planning and action, focusing on specific areas of the city; training and support services for parents, commu4nity residents, and students to enable them to participate more effectively in school reform; professional development of teachers and other school staff members; development of new instructional programs; and monitoring of and research on the reforms.

State Board, City Partnership

The largest of the MacArthur grants announced last week was a total of $800,000 that will go to the Illinois Board of Education and the Chicago district to help link 10 high schools participating in the nationwide Re:Learning school-improvement effort with elementary schools using the “accelerated schools” model.

The accelerated-schools program discourages repetitive remediation for low achievers and encourages a challenging, academic approach that will engage children’s attention. Schools in the Re:Learning network focus on teaching a few “essential” subjects well and in engaging students in their own education. (See Education Week, Oct. 3, 1990.)

The state board of education will receive $400,000 over three years to help 10 Chicago high schools and approximately 30 “feeder” elementary schools plan and implement improvements. The money will be used to add the high schools to the Re:Learning network and to provide special grants to help schools solve immediate problems that may prevent them from joining either that program or the accelerated-schools initiative, according to Dorothy Magett, associate superintendent of schools for Illinois.

As part of the same program, five Chicago high schools will receive up to $80,000 over two years to assist them in participating in Re:Learning. The schools will be selected next month from 16 that have received planning grants from the state.

‘School Community’ Targeted

The MacArthur Foundation also made the following awards last week to these Chicago groups:

$350,000 over three years to the Academic Development Institute, a nonprofit organization that assists families, schools, and communities to improve children’s academic and personal development.

The institute will use the money to help 10 schools in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods develop school-improvement programs and “work as communities,” said Sam Redding, the executive director.

The MacArthur grant will enable the institute to move beyond a pilot program in five schools into the development of an “Alliance for Achievement Network” that is expected to involve as many as 75 schools by the third year, including some outside of Chicago.

$450,000 over three years to the new West Side Consortium Organization, which will bring together the existing efforts of several community organizations and Malcolm X College. While the primary goal of the consortium will be to increase student attendance and academic achievement, it will also focus on providing better-coordinated health and social services for 3,000 elementary students on the city’s near west side.

$150,000 over two years, which will enable Orr Community Academy High School to keep the school open three evenings a week. Its Educational Lighthouse Program will make the school building available for students who need tutoring, those who are behind in course credits, and dropouts pursuing diplomas.

The school also will be available to students and community residents who are interested in job counseling and social services provided by local agencies. Club meetings, cultural activities, and community-college courses also may take place there.

The intent of the program is to provide a model for other schools and neighborhoods interested in using their schools as community resources.

“Without this grant, we wouldn’t have had the funding through the regular sources to do it,” said Kenneth VanSpankeren, the school’s principal, who added that the school is located in a low-income neighborhood in great need of social services. “We’re trying to make the Orr Community High School a real community center--a hub in this wheel of a neighborhood,” he said.

$100,000 over two years to the Chicago Panel on Public School Policy and Finance, which is doing in-depth studies of 16 Chicago schools.

$300,000 over three years to Designs for Change for its schoolwatch training and assistance program for schools.

A version of this article appeared in the June 12, 1991 edition of Education Week as Chicago Reforms To Get $40 Million From MacArthur