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Chicago Fri Jan 16 2009
But this is only the first step.
I attended the Rockford School Board's meeting on Tuesday and witnessed their unanimous approval for the first charter school in the city. The Legacy Academy of Excellence will be a K-5 school for "at-risk" students.
Charter schools are public schools but they're different than the norm, so here's some background from an op-ed I wrote last month in the Rockford Register-Star:
Charter schools are public schools open to any families who wish to apply. Charters design their own curricula, hire their own teachers and need to meet certain student achievement standards set forth in their agreements with state and local officials. If they don't meet these standards, the school must close, and students return to their local traditional public school.
In other words, Legacy will have freedoms that other public schools lack. From flexible work rules that allow charters to hire and retain the best teachers, to their independence to design curricula without mandates from Springfield or Washington, charters are fundamentally different than traditional public schools, and results in Chicago and elsewhere prove their high worth.
In Chicago, the high school graduation rate is a meager 51 percent. A kid that enrolls in a traditional Chicago public school will have a one-in-two chance of actually getting a diploma.
It's even worse in Rockford -- 39.5 percent -- so I'm overjoyed to see that they're taking this step to allow new ideas to come into the city with no strings attached. In fact, two more charter school operators have proposals in front of the school board right now: Chicago International Charter School and Galapagos Charter School. Votes on these proposals are coming soon.
My organization -- the Illinois Policy Institute -- does research on school choice and education reform issues. My colleague Collin Hitt has produced a white paper on the subject of charter schools, which I highly recommend for a read or a quick skim-through.
The charter school story goes beyond Rockford and Chicago -- there's a statewide cap in place that puts an arbitrary ceiling on the number of charters that can be founded in Illinois.
The question I always ask people when discussing the cap is, "Who is it helping?" It certainly doesn't help the kids -- there are thousands of kids on waiting lists in Chicago to get into a charter, and countless more outside the city who don't even have the option of entering a lottery to apply for a slot.
Rockford took a big step toward expanding school choices for students and parents this week. Now it's time for the state to act.