ACI's Center for Success in High-Need Schools


Established in 2004, ACI’s Center for Success in High-Need Schools seeks to close the achievement gap between low-income students and their more affluent peers by providing a key ingredient for success: excellent and diverse teachers for high-need schools.

ACI’s Center has inspired member colleges and universities to partner with Pre-K-12 schools to prepare effective teachers and leaders for schools serving high-poverty communities. To this end, ACI’s Center has attracted more than $17 million in public and private funds to support school reform in Illinois and has convened 21 ACI member colleges and universities in authentic partnerships with 38 high-need Illinois school districts and 106 high-poverty Pre-K-12 schools. Center partnerships have engaged more than 8,500 teacher candidates, teachers, school leaders, and faculty touching the lives of more than 77,000 children.

Positive Outcomes
ACI’s Center for Success in High-Need Schools launched its teacher preparation curriculum transformation initiatives in partner colleges and universities in 2004. These rigorous curriculum transformations are systemic and are producing long-term, sustainable solutions to challenging problems in Illinois and across the nation.

  • Since 2004, ACI colleges and universities have increased the number of candidates they certify by more than 110%. This accounts for more than 27% of all teachers certified annually in Illinois.
  • 55% of new ACI teachers now go to work in high-need schools, compared to 35% in 2002.
  • New teachers prepared by Center partner colleges and universities are rated very highly by their supervising principals, and independent studies show they are making a significant difference in their school communities. Program graduates report high levels of confidence in the quality of their preparation and clinical experiences.
  • Nine of ACI’s Center partner colleges and universities made such significant impact on their partner K-12 schools that these schools were granted “spotlight school status” by the State Board of Education.

Current Agenda
ACI’s Center for Success in High-Need Schools continues to convene ACI members to advance critical education reforms that can be accomplished by recruiting, preparing, and retaining excellent teachers for high-need schools. The specific reforms addressed by ACI’s Center include: 

  • Higher standards for teacher preparation and licensure
  • Selective recruitment and admission to teacher preparation programs
  • Rigorous clinical practice
  • Increased accountability

Fundamental to all ACI’s Center’s current work is the integration of the Common Core State Standards – in teacher preparation, professional development, and classroom teaching. The Common Core is a voluntary, state-led effort to set high standards that are consistent across states and provide a clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, from kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts and mathematics. Center programs now underway include:

  • Professional Development for middle grade math teachers: This Center collaborative, led by North Central College, with Illinois College and McKendree University, focuses on preparing 6-12th grade math teachers to integrate the Common Core Standards effectively with lesson study, inquiry, and action research. (Funding: Illinois State Board of Education).
  • Integrating the Common Core across the teacher preparation continuum: As part of the University of Illinois-Chicago’s World Class Education Initiative, ACI's Center has implemented professional development that integrates the national Common Core standards in language arts and math across the continuum from teacher educators to preservice candidates to K-12 teachers.
  • Doing What Works: ACI’s Center, in partnership with ACI members University of St. Francis (fiscal agent), Eureka College, and Dominican University, focuses on evidence-based practices and  integrates the U.S. Department of Education’s Doing What Works web site with the Common Core Standards into the partners’ undergraduate and graduate elementary, secondary, and special education coursework, including face-to-face courses and university-district partnerships for teacher and leadership development and school improvement. All ACI colleges and universities will benefit from dissemination of this work at Center Partnership Meetings, and K-12 teachers will benefit from this work at ACI’s Teacher Induction Academies and Summer Institute. (Funding: USDOE’s Doing What Works).
  • Basic Skills/TAP (Test of Academic Proficiency) Boot Camp: ACI’s Center has developed a curriculum for Basic Skills/TAP Boot Camps which is being implemented regionally. This initiative has looked critically at selectivity and admission to teacher preparation programs and provides for Boot Camps in reading, language arts, and math. Tested spring and summer 2012, the Boot Camps attracted nearly 120 candidates and is expected to be implemented more fully in the coming years. (Funding: Foundation for Independent Higher Education; Illinois State Board of Education; Golden Apple Foundation; Nicole Power-Donnelley).
  • Principal and Teacher Leader Preparation: ACI’s Center’s Principal Preparation Task Force has been meeting to share ideas for implementing newly designed principal preparation programs that focus on instructional leadership and conform to new state rules for principal preparation, the newly adopted Teacher and Principal Evaluations, which include a critical student growth component, and the new Illinois School Report Card. The group has expanded to develop programs that build a rigorous career path for professional educators.
  • ACI’s Transforming Special Education Collaborative (T-SPED) : Now in its fifth year, T-SPED is assessing the impact of its collaborations to enrich special education teacher preparation programs. (Funding: U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs)
  • ACI’s Teacher Induction Academy : ACI’s Center’s successful Teacher Induction Academy (TIA) continues to attract 75 to 100 teachers for quarterly professional development sessions that promote retention of teachers in high-need schools and provide them with a network of professional colleagues. The TIA curriculum addresses the Common Core standards, as well as the rigorous use of data and assessment to design effective instruction. Each year concludes with a full-day Summer Institute . (Funding: State Farm)
  • Center Partnership Meetings : ACI’s Center’s regular Partnership Meetings attract more than 40 deans, directors, and faculty of teacher preparation programs and other interested partners to explore and act on key issues in teacher preparation and practice. Recent topics have included the redesign of teacher preparation, including rigorous clinical practices and subject matter; performance assessment, including understanding  and implementing the new Teacher Performance Assessment (edTPA); integrating the Common Core in preservice preparation; and identifying high-leverage practices and building them into preparation.
  • Success in High-Need Schools Online Journal: The Center’s online journal publishes partners’ research and critical contributions to state and national education issues.

ACI Success Story

"Learning about the inequalities in education has given me a need to address these issues and help those students who need to be helped the most."

Ellen knew she wanted to teach in a high-need school – and she got direct exposure to high-poverty schools through an ACI High-Need Schools Internship while attending Knox College. A program of ACI’s Center for Success in High-Need Schools, this internship provides students studying education with an immersion experience in an academic day camp serving low-income and minority youth.

“Learning about the inequalities in education has given me a need to address these issues and help those students who need to be helped the most,” she says. After graduating from Knox College, Ellen launched a successful career teaching high school in the Chicago Public Schools and now participates in ACI’s Teacher Induction Academy for new teachers.