Giving Compass' Take:

• Yana Kunichoff shares insights from Maurice Swinney's efforts to turn around Chicago's public high schools. 

• What can other districts learn from Chicago? How can funder support reform efforts by local education leaders? 

• Learn about Chicago's school reform success

Until last year, when he became Chicago Public Schools’ chief equity officer, Maurice Swinney was a high school principal pulling out all the stops to keep ninth-graders from failing their classes.

At Tilden Career Community Academy, Swinney made it a priority to connect incoming students to the school community and to have a single person responsible for coordinating efforts to help ninth-graders. He was driven by “Freshmen On-Track,” a data point that Chicago researchers developed after realizing that how students fared in their first year of high school reliably predicted whether they would ultimately graduate — better than their race, gender, family background, and middle school grades and test scores combined.

A new book, “The Make-or-Break Year: Solving the Dropout Crisis One Ninth Grader at a Time,” chronicles the history of Freshmen On-Track, from its serendipitous origins at the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research, to its rollout as a citywide measure of success, to its unusually successful adoption by educators eager to help their students but weary of being told what to do.

We asked Krone Phillips and Swinney about how the metric is used, their advice for educators looking to keep ninth-graders on track, and their memories of the transition to high school.

Freshmen On-Track is not a policy or a proposal or a set of steps. How would you describe it?

Krone Phillips: It was a movement that started with a research-based problem. Then you had leadership that was really focusing on it, and then you had practitioners who were empowered to start sort of working on this problem, and then you had networks of people who were able to share within schools and across schools how they did the work. That combination was so powerful.

Read the full article about tackling Chicago's high school difficulties by Yana Kunichoff at Chalkbeat.