by Josh Dwyer
It was the best of times; it was the
worst of times. In Chicago that is.
In Chicago’s traditional public schools,
the teachers’ union was on strike. Parents were scrambling to find a safe place
for their child to stay during what would otherwise be a school day. Some were
taking time off, even at the risk of losing their jobs. Low-income students were
seeing the gains they made last year slowly fade away as their summer break
continued. Police worried that more children may fall victim to gang violence. Here,
uncertainty hung in the air.
In Chicago’s charter schools, teachers
were working with parents to ensure student success. Schools were exceeding
expectations, posting gains in reading and math scores. Teachers were not
striking, even though they worked longer hours for less pay. Here, everything
was calm; hopeful, even.
Chicago’s charter high schools are a
welcome change to the typical Chicago Public School (CPS) story of schools
struggling to meet minimal standards full of teachers complaining about
intrusive administrators and lackluster pay. In fact, charter high schools in
the city have – on average – outperformed their public counterparts. This is
not due, as many teachers’ union officials will tell you, to charter high schools
selectively picking their students.
Charter high school students, like
other students in CPS, come primarily from low income backgrounds (91 percent
qualify for free or reduced-price lunch), represent mostly racial minorities
(60 percent African-American and 35 percent Hispanic) and must overcome a range
of challenges (9 percent are English Language Learners and 12 percent have
Recently released 2012 ACT scores
confirm that charter high schools are succeeding where public high schools are
failing. Every CPS high school requires eleventh graders to take the ACT, a
widely known, reputable college readiness exam. Not surprisingly, selective
schools – those who admit most of their students based on previous test scores,
entrance exams, and behavior in middle school – are leading the pack and setting
But among high schools that are open to
all, charter schools continue to dominate the top of the rankings.
In 2012, charter schools held the top
nine spots for open-enrollment, non-selective public high schools in Chicago.
Another charter school was in a three-way tie for tenth. The Noble Network of
Charter Schools led the pack, with nine schools in the top 10, one of which was
included in the tie. The average ACT score for charter schools in the top 10 was
20.6, with Noble Network’s UIC College Prep campus scoring 21.9 – the
highest-ever average at an open-enrollment, non-selective CPS high school.
Not only are charter schools
outperforming their peers on the ACT, a comparison of Chicago’s top 10 charter
high schools to the top 10 open-enrollment, non-selective, traditional public
high schools shows that charter schools’ pace of improvement is significantly
greater. Since 2007, top charter school scores have increased by 17 percent,
while the top traditional schools have gained nearly 5 percent.
Charter schools offer a real
alternative to Chicago parents. They are places where parents can rest assured
knowing that their child is receiving the education they deserve. It is
unfortunate then that only 41 charter schools have been approved so far – 34
still remain open. These openings are not due to lack of demand, but to the
actions of the Chicago Teacher’s Union, who work day-in and day-out to make
sure no more charters open in the city.
It is this same resistance to change
that propelled the Union to strike. Despite numerous international and national
studies showing that teachers’ strikes are bad for students, the Union held
fast to its desire to increase pay , to maintain its unsustainable level of benefits,
and – for all intents and purposes – to not be evaluated using scientifically-proven
Charter schools offer a real
alternative for Chicago’s children. A path to better education for the public
school students of Chicago has already begun. State and local officials must
work side by side to offer more options to Chicago parents eager to find a
place where their children can truly succeed.
schools held the top nine spots for 2012 ACT scores for open-enrollment,
non-selective public high schools in Chicago. Another ended up in a three-way
tie for tenth.
Network’s UIC College Prep campus had the highest-ever average at an
open-enrollment, non-selective CPS high school.
- Top charter
schools scores have increase 17 percent since 2007 while traditional public
schools have gained only 5 percent.
- Top 10
open-enrollment, non-selective high school scores have increased 11 percent
since 2007. The number of charter schools in the top 10 has increased from 3 to
9 during this same time period.