Despite all the controversy and attention surrounding charters, Chicago is one of the least-charterized big city school districts in the nation at this point, having set early and tight limits on the number of charters and the people who could authorize them. It seemed like a good idea at the time, to keep charters in house focus on quality rather than creating a wild west like some other states and districts have had, but the reality has been more of a mixed bag.But there are a couple of realities worth remembering, whether you're pro charter or against.
We still don't know what if anything is in the works in regards to "charterizing" CPS -- something that's been done with mixed results in other places like Cleveland, New Orleans, New York City, and DC. Links via Lavin: Breakthrough charter schools play central role in Cleveland school district's plan (Cleveland), Who's Killing Philly Public Schools? Underfunded. Overburdened. About to be sold for scrap (Phila.).
First and foremost, it's one thing to want or call for a big expansion in charter schools and quite another to actually accomplish such a thing. The press will likely ignore this reality if and when Rahm announces something, but it's worth remembering that plans and promises are just that.
There are a number of obstacles to ramping up charter education in CPS: There aren't that many high-quality school leaders out there -- this is the same problem that CPS has with principal retirements. There aren't that many high-quality charter networks out there, either, at least not ones willing or able to work with Chicago's low reimbursement rate. Noble Street can't do it all, and every school district in the nation is chasing the same half dozen brand-name charter organizations begging them to come to their city. The available school buildings aren't necessarily located where the overcrowding and the need are, so remember when the Mayor talks about surplus buildings he can't necessarily transport them to the locations they're needed.
Some things are changing: (1) There are starting to be charter closings (ACT) and short-renewals (ACE Tech, Youth Connections). (2) Now that there's a state charter commission we can expect to see applicants appealing if they get turned down by CPS -- I'm told at least one school is already appealing to the state. This is pretty common in other places, and is good if you think that charters need to flourish and problematic if you're worried about quality. (3) Superintendents in other places like DC want to be able to authorize charters like CPS can -- to compete with charters, and to be able to offer some of the same autonomies to schools. (4) The charter reimbursement going up, if that happens, could change everything.
In the end, my hope is that the district can keep up and adapt quickly enough that Chicago doesn't have to go through the whole rigamarole of charterization. I'm not against charters (sorry, readers) but I'd rather see CPS adopt some of the best aspects of charters. It seems like a straighter line from here to excellence. But likely there will have to be a lot more charters and a lot more heated debates before that happens.