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Education Thu Sep 24 2009
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.