Nope. It's a much, much bigger problem.
The Walton Foundation and many other big financial dogs support charter schools in Chicago because they think they're a better way to educate children. Isn't that what they say? Charter schools privatize formerly public resources and are more cost-effective. They get rid of stale old union teachers. (Or, well, they did for awhile.) And they do what the public schools do way, way better. That's what I've heard. Isn't that what you've heard?
Why else would the city dump tens of millions of dollars into charter school corporate coffers, cutting resources off from its own public school system?
Looking at CPS's own data, I realize charter schools aren't really all that. Most folks know that, I guess. We just don't talk about it much. But everybody knows the good high schools in the city aren't the charters. Even Bruce Rauner, who has his very own charter school, knows that. He clouted his kid into Payton.
But the more I have looked at CPS's own data, the more I've pored over charter stats vs. neighborhood school stats vs. selective enrollment stats, the more the question stops being about charters vs. public schools.
The more I look, the heavier my heart becomes.
Because folks, we have a problem in Chicago. You ever heard the phrase thrown around by wild radicals, "educational apartheid"?
I didn't really know about this stuff because my child, and all my friends' children, go to that small collection of awesome public high schools for which CPS is justly famous. I mean, I know there are good high schools and bad high schools and medium high schools, or anyway, that's what I assumed, but I never gave it much thought because in my neighborhood, all we worry about is which competitive high school our kids get into.
I started out reading about Fenger High School after I heard Derrion Albert's mom speak out against the school closures. I looked at school statistics. You know, test scores, all that. On the CPS website.
Fenger's stats, bless them, aren't good. I mean, they're really kind of scary. No, what I mean is, they're shockingly terrible.
I'm not sure they're what CPS had in mind as the end result of ten years of education reform principles, aggressively applied.
I don't blame Fenger. It should be pretty clear by now that the teachers aren't the sole determinant of students' success. It isn't testing which creates success. Clearing out the staff and replacing them doesn't do it; closing and cobbling together schools doesn't help.
Rather, in neighborhoods where drugs and gangs reign and poverty is the norm and you're surrounded by empty foreclosed properties and your schools don't have the resources they need--education's going to be an uphill battle.
It's simpler than that really. Surviving the walk to school is an uphill battle.
Anyway, the next thing I did was to look at the statistics for the charter high school in the region--the one that kicks out the kids who don't toe its line, and sends them to Fenger.
Actually, it's three schools at one location. The former Calumet High School was closed by Arne Duncan in 2007 and given to the Perspectives charter group. It became Perspectives Charter Calumet Middle School, Perspectives High School Calumet, and Perspectives High School of Technology. They are located on three separate floors.
The first thing that caught my eye was the parent/community school survey, which is the same for the middle school and the technology high school. And that survey is pretty sad. In the categories of "School Community," "Parent-Teacher Partnership," and "Quality of Facilities," Perspectives Middle/Technology rated a 0. On a scale of 0-100. I'm not really getting the facilities rating, though. After all, this is the school that got a $20 million makeover from CPS after it was handed over to Perspectives.
Surely they do better in their academic ratings than in their parent and community survey.
The impressively named Perspectives High School of Technology sports a 17% rate of students meeting PSAE (Prairie State Achievement Examination) standards, and 0% exceeding. It is a level 3 school.
Perspectives High School Calumet, also called Perspectives Leadership Academy, comes in a hair higher as 18% of its students meet the PSAE standards, and 0% exceed. It is a level 2 school. However the Tribune's 2011-12 Illinois School Report Card states that this school did not meet federal standards. Oops. (Well at least it merits a "good" rating in CPS, huh?) (I should also point out that their parent/community survey numbers were in the "neutral" range, an order of magnitude higher than 0, so that's good.)
Perspectives Middle School Calumet does not have sufficient data to warrant a rating on the CPS website at all.
The best of the Perspectives Calumet lot delivers results that are significantly below the CPS average, which is 31% meeting or exceeding the PSAE standards.
Somehow, given all the support thrown at this charter campus (as the website tells us, from "Ernst & Young LLP, Mayor Brown LLP, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Renaissance Schools Fund, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, New Schools Venture Fund, Walton Family Foundation, and many more"), I'd think those big dogs would be expecting a little more, to say nothing of CPS. Or taxpayers.
This was all depressing enough. But my peeking around didn't stop there.
I wanted to find data on other schools in CPS, from comparable neighborhoods in terms of demographics and economics. I was sure there would be plenty of neighborhood schools whose test scores were higher than those of the Perspectives schools in Calumet. And there were. But it turns out I found a much uglier problem than I thought I was looking for.
Dozens of schools are way down in the 20% meeting and exceeding range (and many way under 20%), and it doesn't seem to matter whether the schools are charters or public. In struggling neighborhoods, the school stats are desperate and disappointing.
That 31.5% average seems to be owing to a handful of schools--all public, all selective. You know about these schools. They make national news, they're so awesome. This is the handful of schools that kids must test into, and their scores are really astonishing. Northside: 99% meeting and exceeding PSAE standards. Payton: 96%. Whitney Young: 96%. Jones: 94%. Lane: 88%. Then you have a cluster of schools like Lincoln Park, Chi Arts, Brooks, and King, also selective and offering specialized courses unavailable elsewhere, whose overall PSAE scores are lower than the top tier but still strong.
From there, things more or less nosedive, and we find ourselves heading straight to the single digits, passing a couple of schools in the 50% range as we go. Here is where we find our first charter high schools, by the way. The best of the batch seem to be the Noble charters which hover in that 40s to 50s band. Beneath that band and all the way down to 3% meeting PSAE standards, we find charters and publics evenly mixed. Reader, did you know there were charter schools that turned in that kind of performance? Neither did I.
I think it's clear that charter schools are no magic bullet. Charter schools are just one more way to educate--and a not very effective one at that. And one that costs the public schools dearly.
But I also think it should be obvious to the Mayor, his Closer, and all his corporate ed reform buddies that the guiding ideology informing No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and everything the Mayor seeks to do in Chicago--that school of thought which has given us union busting, privatization, excessive testing, high stakes testing, testing disincentives like closing, consolidating, and turning around schools and firing teachers--does not work.
These strategies have not ever worked and will not work in the future. And to tie all, one hundred per cent, of our efforts to both of these dead ends--willy-nilly charter promotion and baseless status-quo "education reform," will only result in continual failure for decades to come.
It's a charter and public problem in CPS. And no one in power seems to give a damn, not in the slightest.
Please tell your alderman that the City's efforts to "fix" schools through corporate education reform and charters have not worked.
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