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Chicago 3.0: Propelling Chicago’s education system forward

shutterstock_102586190Recently the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released the results of its Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), a leading survey of education systems conducted every three years and taken by 15-year-olds in 65 countries. The results revealed that U.S. student scores are stagnant while other countries’ are improving. With this in mind, for the U.S., and Chicago specifically, to become more capable of impact on a global scale, we need to fortify our foundations through education. From a local perspective, we need a “Chicago 3.0” plan.


This plan, currently a vision with promise of implementation, promotes a city powered by locally developed, knowledgeable workers wired for access and success in U.S. and global economies. Chicago 3.0 draws on national policies for global engagement and international educational agendas to transform Chicago into a wired city. Through this plan, Chicago will use world-leading mental and mobile technologies to compete successfully in local and global knowledge economies.

Chicago 3.0 reinforces the importance of parental involvement in early childhood education. In 1893, National Louis University showcased a kindergarten exhibition at the World’s Columbian Exposition and one year later convened the first National Mothers’ Convention, which was the forerunner of the Parent Teachers Association. Today National Louis is well placed to take a lead in building a wired city by adapting these early childhood and parental engagement innovations to advocate for a children’s university system for awarding Enterprise, Science, Technology, Arts, Engineering and Mathematics (ESTEAM) badges. This system builds on the success of the U.K.’s model, which allows children, in and out of school, to earn passport stamps by visiting learning destinations (e.g. museums, aquariums and arts centers) in cities across the country.

With the Chicago 3.0 vision, the mayor would serve as president of the Chicago Children’s University, and intercultural learning ambassadors would volunteer throughout the summer to encourage marginalized groups within their neighborhoods to more actively engage with the beautiful learning destinations of Chicago. Imagine Soldier Field filled to capacity with local and international families graduating from the Chicago Children’s University after engaging in a successful summer of learning. Could this exposition of the future be enough to stir the blood of citizens here and abroad?

Chicago 3.0’s policies would prepare citizens for success in the flat world of a global knowledge economy. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s policy of international education and engagement provides a cultural development framework for increasing the global competence and competitiveness of our youth. The OECD DeSeco Competencies deliver a research-informed framework for addressing mismatches between our current curricula and employer expectations. Finally, the United Nation’s Global Education First Initiative represents a resource for city leaders seeking to reduce the incidence of wasted potential and build stronger communities in Chicago.

Chicago 3.0 relies on catalytic communities to accelerate the strengthening of our education system and future. Catalytic communities represent an extension of the idea of catalytic philanthropy, a strategy for addressing the lack of progress in solving major social problems in the U.S. These communities will mirror the diversity of our neighborhoods. Membership will include representative groups from academia, the business community, the civic community, donor groups, governments, learners, families, the media, teachers and multi-lateral organizations. Collaboration among these groups will sharpen the focus of our priorities and our funding to accelerate the transformation from a gateway city to a global gateway.

Chicago 3.0 will rely on alliances like the one formed during the recent Global Education First Conference at National Louis University between the African Scientific Institute (California), the Education Futures Collaboration (U.K.), the International Council on Education for Teaching (Chicago), and the World Literacy Council (Asia-Pacific). Such alliances create the potential for forming Chicago-based International Networked Communities (INCs). This month, members of this alliance collaborated to deliver a STEM badging project in Abuja, Nigeria. A Chicago 3.0 INC involving members of this alliance could, for example, collaborate to translate evidence-informed international best practices into improvements in local literacy rates.

The education system in a city in need of saving is also a city poised for a turnaround. Chicago 3.0 serves as a vision to create a globally connected wired city powered by an educated workforce prepared for success in existing and emerging knowledge economies.

About James O'Meara

James O’Meara is a Professor at NLU and serves in executive positions for the UNESCO NGO Liaison Committee, the International Council on Education for Teaching, the World Literacy Council and the Education Futures Collaboration.