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Volume 18, Number 5
September/October 2002

Moving Instruction to Center Stage

After years of school reform focused on organization and governance, is Chicago finally ready to make teaching and learning a priority?


"It's about instruction, stupid." That 2001 headline, which appeared in Catalyst, the magazine of record about Chicago school reform, says a lot about what has happened—and what hasn't—in the first decade of reforms. Despite some notable successes at individual schools, there is this striking fact: one-third of schools have improved, one-third are treading water, and another third appear dead in the water. Why such disparities? Books could—and will—be written dissecting that question. But one answer heard more often than not these days is "instruction."

In the last issue of the Harvard Education Letter, we highlighted research showing the importance of strong, trusting relationships in schools—the power of social trust as an agent of school reform. In successful schools, the development of trust between administrators and teachers —and among teachers themselves—depends in large part on the amount of respect they have in each others' instructional abilities. Trust begins first and foremost with the question, Is this person committed to and capable of high-quality teaching?

The Consortium on Chicago School Research—a group of researchers from local universities, community groups, and the school system—has conducted a number of studies in an effort to identify why some Chicago schools are improving while most are not. Much of that work has focused on instruction.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


For Further Information

For Further Information

The reports cited are published by the Consortium on Chicago School Research:

A.S. Bryk, J.K. Nagaoka, and F.M. Newmann. "Chicago Classroom Demands for Authentic Intellectual Work: Trends from 1997-1999." 2000.

V.E. Lee, J.B. Smith, T.E. Perry, and M.A. Smylie. "Social Support, Academic Press, and Student Achievement: A View from the Middle Grades in Chicago." 1999.

F.M. Newmann, A.S. Bryk, J.K. Nagaoka. "Authentic Intellectual Work and Standardized Tests: Conflict or Coexistence?" 2001.

F.M. Newmann, G. Lopez, and A.S. Bryk. "The Quality of Intellectual Work in Chicago Schools: A Baseline Report." 1998.

F.M. Newmann, B. Smith, E. Allensworth, and A.S. Bryk. "School Instructional Program Coherence: Benefits and Challenges." 2001.

J.B. Smith, V.E. Lee, and F.M. Newmann. "Instruction and Achievement in Chicago Elementary Schools." 2001.

J.B. Smith, B. Smith, and A.S. Bryk. "Setting the Pace: Opportunities to Learn in Chicago's Elementary Schools." 2001.

M.A. Smylie, E. Allensworth, R.C. Greenberg, R. Harris, and S. Luppescu. "Teacher Professional Development in Chicago: Supporting Effective Practice." 2001.