In June 2004, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Arne Duncan, and leaders from the Chicago business community announced the Renaissance 2010 initiative.
The goal was to open 100 new schools and provide all students, regardless of socio-economic background, with the opportunity to compete on the global playing field.
The Renaissance Schools Fund was established by the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago as the independent fundraising and strategic partner to Renaissance 2010.
Our objective then, as now, was to catalyze dramatic improvement within CPS. At the time, only 50% of students graduated from high school, and low-income students of color were significantly more affected than their peers.
Initially supported with more than $20 million in seed funding, we led the collaborative public-private partnership that catalyzed new school creation and functioned as the accountability partner to CPS in the school selection process.
From 2004 to 2014, with the support of the city’s business community, philanthropists, educators, and innovators, we raised more than $100 million to start 81 new schools, inspiring the name New Schools for Chicago (NSC), which would contribute to an era of amazing educational gains.
Today, graduation rates are at an all-time high of 78%. Since our initial efforts, college readiness scores have increased significantly; and reading and math scores in elementary schools improved at rates that rank in the top of urban districts nationally.
Despite remarkable progress, in 2015 nearly 75,000 students remained in failing schools that were not preparing them for success in college, career, and life. We saw that our low-income communities with predominantly Black and Latine families were disproportionately affected—an inequity that demanded renewed attention.
At the same time, we recognized that the district now had an influx of quality options, coupled with a shrinking student population. These circumstances meant that opening new schools would no longer have the positive impact of the previous decade.
More importantly, Chicago’s historically top-down approach to education created better options for many but also had unintended consequences that drove a wedge between grass-tops and grassroots stakeholders.
We relaunched in 2015 with a new strategy to place parents at the heart of the conversation and to shift the narrative to focus on school quality, rather than simply new choices.
At the time, we developed Kids First Chicago (K1C) as a campaign to empower parents with the information to find the best schools for their children and to have a voice in shaping education policy to better serve all of Chicago’s children.
Over the past three years, we’ve garnered positive feedback as a trusted and unbiased source of information on education quality and school performance to both communities and district leadership.
To build on our rich legacy of improving access to high-quality schools in Chicago, while also recognizing the natural evolution of our work, in August 2018, Kids First Chicago became the new banner for all that we do.