The Challenge

High school graduation is the key achievement of adolescence and predicts everything from health outcomes to incarceration and lifetime earnings. Yet, too many students in Chicago Public Schools fail to complete high school, and many graduates lack the skills to succeed in college or the workforce. Just over 73% of CPS students graduate by the age of 19, with African American students graduating at a rate of 63% (2015 CPS data). Both numbers are well below the national average of 80%. Americans who do not graduate from high school have an 8.6% unemployment rate, compared to 2.7% of those with Bachelor's degrees or higher (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015).  Only 39% of CPS graduates will enroll in a four-year college in the year following graduation. A 2013 Pew Research Center report shows that students who do not graduate from college will make, on average, two-thirds less than their peers with Bachelor's degrees. NCS brings deep expertise to help schools develop effective change strategies to support and sustain higher student achievement.

Our Beginning

The Network developed out of a growing need for research-based education reform in Chicago. In 2006, Professor Melissa Roderick answered the call for real change when high school principals approached her to improve their school outcomes regarding academic achievement and graduation.  Initially, NCS served as a voluntary group of principals working together. However, in 2009, NCS schools formally became Area 21 within CPS.  Sean Stalling, the former principal of an NCS partner school, was appointed the Chief Area Officer and thus ensured the NCS model across all Area 21 schools. Area 21 enabled NCS to expand our services to include coaching and professionals learning communities not just for principals, but also Instructional Leadership Teams, On-Track teacher leaders, and counseling teams focusing on college access and enrollment. In 2011, under the new CPS administration, the District-level Areas were reorganized into Networks. Thus, NCS returned to the volunteer model, with all NCS principals opting to continue working together to improve their schools.

Professor Melissa Roderick

Professor Roderick is the Hermon Dunlap Smith Professor at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago, the Senior Director at the UChicago Consortium on School Research (the Consortium), and a member of the University of Chicago’s Committee on Education. Read more...

In 2019-20, NCS partners with 17 schools and 300 educators serving over 16,000 students. This represents approximately 16% of the district's high school student population. NCS is also providing quarterly professional development to all non-charter high schools in the district, serving an additional 300 educators across the city. Our citywide trainings have the potential to impact all high school students in Chicago Public Schools.