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Education Thu Sep 24 2009

Charter Schools: Changing Lives

Today the Illinois Policy Institute is releasing a new short film about charter schools and their success in Chicago.

Entitled 'Charter Schools: Changing Lives,' the documentary profiles students, teachers and administrators in three Chicago charter schools: Chicago International Charter School's Ralph Ellison campus, Noble Street Charter School's Pritzker College Prep, and the Urban Prep Academy for Young Men.

As I've written on these pages before, charter schools are independent public schools with the freedom to design their own curricula. They have a greater ability to hire and fire teachers than traditional public schools, and admit students based on a blind lottery system regardless of achievement or other qualifications.

For those who are skeptical of the admission system, I ask you to consider reading a summary of a new report on New York City charter schools by Stanford economist Caroline Hoxby in today's Wall Street Journal.

According to the study, the most comprehensive of its kind to date, New York charter applicants are more likely than the average New York family to be black, poor and living in homes with adults who possess fewer education credentials.

Collin Hitt--the Illinois Policy Institute's director of education policy--tells me the selection process for New York City charter schools is "virtually identical" to that in Chicago.

The report also comments on the achievements of charter school students:

Charter students are also shrinking the learning gap between low-income minorities and more affluent whites. "On average," the report concludes, "a student who attended a charter school for all of the grades kindergarten through eight would close about 86% of the [achievement gap] in math and 66% of the achievement gap in English."

The Illinois Policy Institute has noted similar achievement gains in its studies of Illinois charter schools.

Despite the success of charter schools, the state continues to place a cap on how many can open. In May the General Assembly increased the cap, however, it continues to exist, artificially deflating the supply of charter schools and creating long waiting lists for admission.

Kenneth Hutchinson, Director of College & Community Partnerships at Urban Prep Academy for Young Men in Chicago's Englewood neighborhood says of the cap: "It's a cap on opportunity. It's a cap on success. It's a cap on options."

This arbitrary cap along with conflicting authorization procedures make it difficult for charter schools to open, particularly in places like Springfield and Waukegan, where students need alternative educational options.

For more information on how charter schools can improve children's lives, read Charting the Course: Illinois Charter Schools Offer a Proven Solution to the State's Dropout Problem.

In case you weren't aware, I am the director of outreach for the Illinois Policy Institute.

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Jim Vail / September 24, 2009 9:56 PM

Check out the story on charter schools in the current website. Ed Sec. Arne Duncan is a liar when he says he doesn't like charter schools, he likes good charter schools. That's because he's heavily promoted a corrupt charter operator called Aspira that strip searches its students, illegally changes grades and attendance records, has falling dysmal test scores, does not service its ELL or Special Education students and according to the students is very unsafe.
So what happens - they get stimulus money from Mr. Obama and Duncan to open more failing charter schools. There may be some real good ones out there - but why close good public schools that are under-resourced. Fund them properly and you will see great results. Overall, public schools are doing better than charters (see the Credo Report from Stanford U. on Charter study!) with huge turnover rate among their teachers because they're compensated much lower with less benefits and no real pension.

John Burnham / September 25, 2009 1:26 PM

If you provide the "correct" culture, you will attain the "correct" result: The rain in spain falls mainly on the plains. The aspects that make these programs most unnerving are the finishing-school-like rules (e.g. dress code, manners in the classroom, the ability to retake things until you get them "right",-or a high enough of a grade for the stats). Yes, etiquette training is valuable in the real world, but is it the teacher's job in a classroom to nurture conformity and the manners of a certain socio-economical class?

There's got to be a better way (and a more cost-effective way) that doesn't leave communities feeling divided or children privileged or culture sanitized.

-John Burnham of Chicago

ardecila / September 25, 2009 2:22 PM

Why shouldn't the culture of poor urban youth be "sanitized"? Isn't that the whole point of education, to help students make better decisions and give them the skills to succeed? A necessary part of that is cutting them off from a culture that clearly does not encourage them to succeed in life. If dress codes and rigid discipline are part of this, then fantastic. Students can participate in whatever aspects of urban culture they choose to, on their own time. To be honest, I would argue that other ethnicities have managed to succeed in Chicago and other cities in no small part due to the discipline and rigor of Catholic schools. Many charter schools simply reproduce this in a secular way, and in my mind, this can only be good.

Kenzo Shibata / September 26, 2009 4:39 PM

Charter schools are the nothing more than the "Plan B" of the voucher lobby. Vouchers were a hard sell for the Republicans of the nineties, and required a new strategy.

The charter school was a concept created by past president of the American Federation of Teachers, the late Al Shanker. They were meant to be a type of lab school, staffed by UNION teachers, where new curricula and teaching strategies could be tested and exported to the regular public schools. The concept was an easy sell.

Voucher made one think about privatization, "charter" could be marketed as new and innovative.

To increase the saleability of charter schools, the first batches unleashed in a given district cherry-pick students with good test scores and leave behind students who have limited English proficiency and/or special needs. This made for good data.

Sure, there may be a lotter system in many cities, but these lotteries are not exactly publicly announced to the general populace. UNO charter schools, for example, have been reported to house visit students they want in their schools.

So now there is a small number of "high performing" schools in a city. The next step is to clone them. Currently many states have caps on charters. To get around this cap, each charter can clone itself into multiple campuses. What this leaves us with is one high performing school and a few imitations that fly under the radar.

One source, who works at a "cloned" version of a Renaissance 2010 charter school told me that he was told the week before classes started this year that he had to teach a grade level of which he was not endorsed.

In the public schools, parents would be notified, by law. He, however, was allowed to teach. This is the model that "improves children's lives" according to Mr. Lorenc.

What is "arbitrary" is not the cap on charters, but the argument for charters itself.

In case you weren't aware, I am a full-time teacher. I have never felt stifled in what I could teach by my Union contract. I have, however, felt stifled when I felt pressured to teach to a test to keep my schools from being privatized. I have felt stifled when my classes have been overcrowded due to the Board of Education's policy of using class size limits as a minimum, not as a maximum. I have felt limited by lack of textbooks.

What I am saying is that I have felt stifled by the sabotage of public schools to make room for schools where labor is cheap and slogans (sold by education consultants) are expensive.

Union busting by any other name would reek as foul.

xian / September 26, 2009 4:55 PM

The original article is typical of the pro-charter lobby--advertising over substance.

"According to the study, the most comprehensive of its kind to date, New York charter applicants are more likely than the average New York family to be black, poor and living in homes with adults who possess fewer education credentials."

Why would any well-intentioned person compare charter school applicants to "the average New York family" rather than to students in open enrollment public schools? The answer is that there's no explanation. The only reason to do such illogical comparison is to intentionally mislead.

"Charter students are also shrinking the learning gap between low-income minorities and more affluent whites. 'On average,' the report concludes, 'a student who attended a charter school for all of the grades kindergarten through eight would close about 86% of the [achievement gap] in math and 66% of the achievement gap in English.'"

Again, why not use actual achievement (including those students thrown out on to the street) instead of projected enrollment of a small group.

This is what charter school "success" studies are about--unethical researches accepting funding to produce non-scientific data.

If you look at studies that use proper comparisons and methodology, you get stuff like the CREDO study.

What do they show? Even with greater resources and governmental support, schools run by people without the expertise to run schools, underperform existing schools.

The current schools are not perfect. They must be improved. But to steal money from the neediest of children and divert it to schools which cream their kids through parental commitment and behavior contracts, and use advertising push instead of actual results, is atrocious.

One wonders whether the article writer knows this or is just another dupe of the charter ad campaign.

Shantell Hopkins / November 20, 2009 4:41 PM

It is an absolute pleasure attending a charter school on the South Side of Chicago. Charter schools have shaped the lives of many outstanding students which I see everyday. When I walk through the halls of our school, [CICS Ralph Ellison] I see the determination among the students face that makes it an enjoyable environment. The staff are holding each student accountable for their actions. When I lay in bed at night I tell myself "I can not wait to do it all over again tomorrow". If every school was like a charter school the United States would be full of top intellectuals that would help shape the morals this country hides behind.

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