Exclusive Interview: Janice Jackson Discusses Tutoring, Free College, and Choice in Chicago

Prior to the pandemic, Janice Jackson witnessed firsthand the effectiveness of what is now widely recognized as high-dosage tutoring.

While serving as the CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, Saga Education, a nonprofit providing in-person tutoring during school hours, achieved remarkable success with ninth and 10th graders in the city who were struggling in math. According to data from a study, students who participated in the tutoring program showed higher test scores, improved grades, and increased class passing rates.

“Our principals were immediately enthusiastic about it,” she shared with The 74. “It was truly an outstanding program.”

There was a significant obstacle, however: the cost per student at that time was $2,600. Jackson noted, “The financial aspect was not feasible.”

After stepping down from her role in Chicago three years later, Jackson now heads the board at Accelerate, providing her with a national perspective on the tutoring requirements in K-12 education.

Despite evidence of ongoing learning deficits, only around 10% of students who require high-dosage tutoring receive it, based on federal statistics from last year. In order to tackle this challenge, Accelerate recently convened researchers, service providers, and state officials in Washington to explore ways to expand effective programs to more students.

During the event, discussions revolved around innovative tutoring models, the potential use of AI in tutoring initiatives, and the necessity for clearer data regarding their effectiveness.

“We have extensive research demonstrating the importance of tutoring frequency, the quality of teachers, and alignment with the curriculum,” highlighted Jackson. “What remains unknown is how to achieve these goals in the evolving learning environment, including through virtual platforms and small group settings.”

Former CPS CEO Janice Jackson (second from left) during the 2019 Chicago Teachers Union strike at City Hall. (Brian Cassella/Getty Images)

However, Jackson is not solely focused on tutoring. As she gains prominence nationally, she continues to serve as a significant voice on issues impacting the district she once oversaw, as stated by Daniel Anello, CEO of Kids First Chicago, an organization advocating for parental education regarding policy matters.

“Having experienced the system as a parent herself, she has always prioritized racial equity by ensuring that the most marginalized families are central in decision-making,” Anello remarked.

Last December, she criticized a resolution passed by the district’s appointed school board, which emphasized neighborhood schools while indicating a shift away from school choice.

In an op-ed, she referred to the resolution as “incorrect” and accused the board — appointed by Mayor Brandon Johnson, a former teachers union organizer — of pursuing an anti-charter agenda.

She emphasized, “There is no rationale for denying parents their rights and jeopardizing their children’s interests.”

During an interview, Jackson expressed her support for neighborhood schools but voiced concerns about the lack of involvement from Chicago families in discussions about the district’s future. She also outlined her role as the leader of Hope Chicago, an initiative offering tuition-free college for low-income students and parents, along with her vision for expanding high-quality tutoring programs.

The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

The 74: High-dosage tutoring is now recommended as the most effective approach for assisting students in overcoming learning setbacks. Can you discuss your experience with tutoring in Chicago?

Janice Jackson shared insights from the collaboration with Saga, a non-profit specializing in high-dosage math tutoring. She mentioned, “Our principals were immediately enthusiastic about it. It was a phenomenal program, but at that time, it cost us $2,600 per student. Financially, it was not sustainable. Today, there have been significant developments in this area, which drew me to Accelerate. I am excited about the potential to implement this on a broader scale at a lower cost, making it more sustainable and beneficial for low-income districts.”

Approximately 50 studies are currently underway to assess effective strategies, allowing for faster progress compared to the standard pace in education.

At the recent Accelerate conference in Washington, discussions focused on sustaining additional support for students beyond the expiration of federal relief funds. How would you address this scenario if you were in charge of a district?

Jackson recommended leveraging online resources and technology to a greater extent than before the pandemic. She emphasized the need to explore accelerated learning possibilities and the utilization of technology for enhanced educational outcomes. By providing district-wide courses through technology platforms, Jackson highlighted the potential to offer rigorous curriculum opportunities even in schools with budget constraints.

During an Accelerate conference, Jackson discussed tutoring strategies with Roberto Rodriguez, Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of Education. (Accelerate)

Is Accelerate actively supporting research into the technological aspects of tutoring?

Accelerate is conducting research on virtual tutoring solutions, illustrating a commitment to evaluating various digital tools rigorously. Jackson emphasized the importance of delivering quality education and the necessity of evaluating the effectiveness of educational tools and platforms.

You have also shown a strong commitment to enhancing college access. Can you share insights gained from your involvement with Hope Chicago?

By offering debt-free college opportunities, Hope Chicago seeks to narrow the economic disparity for Black and Latino families. Jackson highlighted the positive outcomes in Chicago regarding college enrollment and completion rates. She emphasized the community’s awareness of the financial risks associated with pursuing higher education, underscoring a more thoughtful approach in college decision-making. Additionally, Jackson mentioned the enrollment of parents in college through Hope Chicago, which further strengthens the program’s impact.

Are other cities observing and potentially adopting the initiatives led by Hope Chicago?

While no direct adoptions have occurred, Jackson’s aspiration is to catalyze significant changes in the higher education system. She envisions broader accessibility to free college education as a transformative goal for the education sector in the United States, emphasizing the need for such initiatives to address economic disparities and enhance educational opportunities for all communities.

Amid your broader initiatives, you continue to engage actively with Chicago’s education landscape, particularly in response to recent school board decisions. Why did you address the community’s concerns through an op-ed?

Expressing her frustration with the prevailing attitudes towards school choices, particularly for marginalized communities, Jackson emphasized the necessity of inclusive decision-making processes. She highlighted the impact of recent resolutions on Chicago families, underlining the importance of advocating for equity and parental rights in educational policies.

As Chicago faces upcoming school board elections after nearly three decades, how is the community preparing for this significant change?

Jackson stressed the need for robust community engagement and informed decision-making regarding school board appointments. She underscored the importance of ensuring that parents are well-informed about the ongoing developments in the education sector and urged for increased transparency and involvement of diverse voices in shaping educational policies.

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