How Data is Helping to Close the Opportunity Gap in Chicago

A unique model changes the trajectory of children and families through a more tailored education.  

GUEST COLUMN | by Lori Baas

A WELCOME HOME. Chicago-based Christopher House is a family of schools working to close the ‘opportunity gap’ for nearly 5,700 low-income children and parents. “It’s not an easy task and it’s a feat that will undeniably take time, but we’re making strides through a unique model driven by data,” says Lori Baas, CEO of the agency. “We use data to inform our practices and offer the highest level of education and services,” she says. Under her guidance, the agency developed and implemented outcome measurements for each of its programs and started the Chicago Benchmarking Collaborative project. Here, she shares more background and some of their successful actions. 

It’s no secret that countless children in underserved neighborhoods across the country do not have access to high quality education.

What many people don’t realize is that this opportunity gap starts well before elementary school begins.

By age three, children from low-income households know fewer than half as many words as their more affluent peers. This disparity, along with similar gaps in math and emotional development, persists and widens as children get older.

For example, just 14% of low-income high school students go on to earn a college degree.

This lack of educational achievement limits their career options and perpetuates the cycle of poverty, which has a lasting, negative effect on the individual, their family, their community and the entire city.

Closing this opportunity gap is not an easy task and it’s a feat that will undeniably take time.

But here in Chicago, Christopher House is making strides through a unique model driven by data.

Our approach combines a continuum of personalized education with immersive family support that starts at birth to ultimately help low-income, at-risk children and their families achieve success in school, the workplace, and life.

“After just two years of being eligible, and four years since opening our doors, this ranking places the school in the top 1 percent of all Chicago Public Schools.”


Taking a closer look at this approach, Christopher House is comprised of a family of schools: infant and preschool, elementary school, after school, and parent school.

Our continuum starts at birth, providing high-quality early education that offsets the initial disparity between low-income and more affluent children, and follows through eighth grade and beyond.

At Every Grade Level

At every age and grade level, we personalize each student’s education, tailoring our approach to their strengths and focusing not only on academic growth but also on social and emotional development to help them succeed in school as well as life. Critical to our students’ success is our work with parents and the resources we provide—from a food pantry to counseling services—to make sure our children go home to healthy, supportive environments.

To this end, we get to know each family and help them set individual goals toward self-sufficiency; then we regularly check in to make sure no obstacles are getting in the way of progress.

Across all aspects of our model, Christopher House maintains high standards for tracking, using and sharing individual, classroom and community data to continually improve operations, increase effectiveness and extend our impact. We consistently and closely measure against outcomes such as:

  • Early Childhood Outcomes: Increased school readiness and parent engagement in child development and education
  • Elementary School Outcomes: Improved school performance and social and emotional skills, along with increased self-sufficiency and advocacy
  • After School Outcomes: Improved school performance, social skills and interpersonal behavior, as well as high school graduation rates and enrollment in post-secondary education
  • Parent School Outcomes: Increased level of education, English literacy, earnings and sustainable employment and retention


Strengthening this approach and focusing on creating a replicable model, Christopher House also facilitates the award-winning Chicago Benchmarking Collaborative: a partnership of seven well-established education and human services agencies in Chicago dedicated to sharing data, refining best practices and capitalizing on each other’s strengths to tangibly improve outcomes for the low-income children and families we collectively serve.

So How Did We Do It?

A few data-related best practices that have proven effective for us as we bring data into our classrooms to guide improvements include:

  1. Create data-driven improvement plans that align to SMART goal criteria
  2. Share data across-schools, such as preschool teachers sharing student developmental growth and learning with kindergarten teachers for transitioning 5-year-olds moving from preschool to elementary school
  3. Adopt ORID discussion method to help facilitate data dialogues with staff
  4. Incorporate external data/research when making program improvement decisions such as Growth Mindset
  5. Share data with parents and support them in setting goals for how they will help their children develop


And it’s working.

Recently, Christopher House earned Chicago Public Schools’ top rating with Level 1+ status, according to the district’s School Quality Rating Policy (SQRP) report. After just two years of being eligible, and four years since opening our doors, this ranking places the school in the top 1 percent of all Chicago Public Schools.

Additional outcomes from the 2016-2017 school year for Christopher House include:

  • 100% of students receive a personalized curriculum that focuses on both academic growth as well as social and emotional development
  • 3rd and 4th graders are within the 99th national growth percentile for reading and 97th for math
  • On average all grades K-4 met or exceeded the national norm in reading
  • 84% of After School students improved their GPA or maintained a B average
  • 80% of Christopher House’ graduating preschoolers are kindergarten ready
  • 93% of parents reached 2 out of 3 goals towards their child’s healthy growth and development
  • 1,540 hungry children and their families were provided support through the school’s food pantry


An Open Invitation

Our ongoing vision is to provide every child the opportunity to succeed.

As we continue to strive toward that goal and make strides in closing the opportunity gap, our team welcomes new opportunities to collaborate, provide additional information on our approach and share best practices.

I invite you to learn more at or reach out to me directly at to discuss our model in more detail.

Lori Baas joined Christopher House in 2002 as the CEO and has guided Christopher House through strategic planning and a program impact evaluation process that resulted in redefining the organization’s vision and purpose. The process has resulted in a performance evaluation system that rewards mission driven staff and aligns with Christopher values; a culture of data based decision making to help change the trajectory of at risk children and increase self-sufficiency of their families; and shared learning and effective practices through participation in the Chicago Benchmarking Collaborative.


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