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Chicago Public Schools Thu Dec 15 2011

If Charter Schools Don't Perform That Well, Why Build More?

On Monday Chicago Public School (CPS) officials announced that 12 new charter schools are proposed for the next two years. This would add more schools to the already established Noble Street, United Neighborhood Organization (UNO) and LEARN Charter Networks while establishing Catalyst and Christopher House charter schools.

In a press release, CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard is quoted as saying that expanding the charter school options would increase "higher quality school options" for students.

This would be a nice proposition if 25 of the 83 charter schools in Chicago didn't have less than 50 percent of students meeting or exceeding state standards. It's curious why something touted as being a way to provide outstanding education to students doesn't have more performing at outstanding levels.

Meanwhile, of the ten schools planned for a turnaround, six of them have more than 50 percent or more students meeting or exceeding state benchmarks. But by CPS standards these schools are terrible because they aren't improving. All of the schools scheduled for turnaround have been on academic probation for five years, but charter schools are unable to be on probation because they are not overseen by the Board of Education.

The lack of excellent academic performance at charter schools was recently reported on by the Tribune--and written about here at Gapers Block--yet Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the CPS seems bent on adding more charter schools. It might help that the president of UNO, Juan Rangel, was one of the co-chairs of Emanuel's mayoral campaign and UNO is one of the city's largest and most influential charter networks.

The Mayor does seem to view charter schools with rose-tinted glasses, including praising an all-girls charter school where only 15 percent of the students were meeting state standards. Mayor Emanuel even promised expansion of that school, which seems to show that the current administration will support charter schools, even if they might be performing worse than the neighborhood schools.

But the honeymoon period for Chicago with charter schools seems to be over. Parents at Northwest Middle School in Belmont Cragin have rallied together against Christopher House's plans to build a charter school next to the middle school. Ald. Nicholas Sposato is being berated by Ald. Danny Solis and UNO for deciding to delay a vote to rezone land to allow UNO to build a new charter school in his ward.

The decision is being treated as a definite issue rather than acknowledging that Ald. Sposato is trying to examine the situation. Ald. Solis is in turn treating this as a race issue, judging from a quote he provided to the Tribune.

However the group that wants to build the charter school also runs one of the low-performing charter schools in the city, although UNO plans to improve Paz Elementary. Wouldn't it be more heroic to see what the people want before assuming they want a charter school run by UNO because it will become a predominantly Hispanic ward?

While some people, including the mayor, seem to treat charter schools as a method of reform there does not seem to be much improvement in Chicago. There are some high performing charter schools in the city, including one where 92.3 percent of students are meeting or exceeding state standards, but there are also excellent neighborhood schools where students perform well on standardized tests. Despite what the prevailing rhetoric suggests, charter schools don't seem to be that much of an improvement over what currently exists in the CPS.


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