The Chicago Systemic Initiative (CSI), part of a five-year, multi-city project of the National Science Foundation, is the main contribution central office has made to teacher training in math and science.
With only $15 million over five years, CSI seeks to do a lot without a lot of money, says program director Clifton Burgess.
Its aim is to upgrade math and science education systemwide. Its approach is to help schools craft and carry out their own math and science improvement plans. To do that, CSI provides modest amounts of training, support and money, an average of $7,000 per school for staff development.
Now entering its fifth and final school year, CSI has helped 325 schools and plans to increase that number to about 420 before the year is out.
At each CSI school, a group of teachers forms a design team. Team leaders attend monthly training in the fundamentals of staff development, such as how to use state and district academic standards and how to work effectively as a team. Design teams meet weekly while drafting their schools’ plans, and CSI staff drop by regularly to assist.
To help schools select good professional development programs, CSI forwards feedback it has received from schools that have used various providers. It also helps individual teachers select graduate courses in math and science.
CSI has coordinated local non-profits, businesses and universities to support the public schools. For instance, some universities now offer college credit for science courses teachers take at Alder Planetarium and Lincoln Park Zoo.
During CSI’s first two years, subdistrict superintendents selected schools, typically the lowest achieving, to participate. Since then, schools have had to submit proposals explaining how CSI would fit into their overall improvement plans. All schools on academic probation for low test scores are participating.
An external evaluation suggests that CSI has had a positive impact: From 1994 to 1997, the increase in math test scores is slightly larger at CSI schools than at non-CSI schools. However, the study did not control for other factors that may have contributed to those results.