Throughout Illinois, a unique kind of public school is emerging: charter schools. Begun by non-profit groups, teams of teachers, or even universities, these new schools are trying innovative approaches to public education. Most importantly, they are creating additional choices for families, often in communities where public education has failed to meet the needs of parents and children.
The “charter school movement,” as it has been called, has been a success in Illinois, but to date it has primarily been concentrated in Chicago. That is slowly beginning to change.
During the 2008-09 school year, there were 9 charter schools open in downstate Illinois and the suburbs of Chicago, one of which is now closed. Two new charter schools opened in Rockford during the current 2009-10 school year, with another to follow next year. Peoria has approved a math and science charter high school to open in the fall of 2010 as well, bringing the expected number of downstate and suburban charter schools to 12.
Other Illinois communities are also showing interest, including Kankakee, Waukegan and Matteson. However, the prospect of opening charter schools in those communities appears less likely, due to the fact that state law gives local school district officials almost complete control over the decision to issue a charter to open a new school—a school that would essentially compete with their own. A state task force recently recommended changes to state law that would increase the likelihood that high-quality charter schools would be opened in downstate and suburban communities, but the state legislature has not yet turned those recommendations into law.
The growing interest in charter schools throughout Illinois is largely attributable to the success of charter schools within Chicago. Studies have consistently shown that charter schools typically perform above the norm at comparable district schools in Chicago.
This publication offers a thorough performance evaluation of existing downstate and suburban charter schools, using comparable performance measures to those laid out by the Illinois State Board of Education and the federal Department of Education. In doing so, this evaluation sheds light on the progress being made by charter schools to provide parents throughout all of Illinois with a richer array of school choices.
The following schools are reviewed in this report:
Cambridge Lakes Charter School
Fort Bowman Academy Charter School
Prairie Crossing Charter School
Robertson Charter School
Southern Illinois University East St. Louis Charter School