Best & Worst Charters

Best & Worst Charters

Screen shot 2013-03-13 at 12.29.43 PMThe folks at the right-leaning Washington DC think tank Fordham Foundation have put out a new report comparing charter schools in five different cities.

At first, it seems like the usual charter school advocacy:  "For Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, and Indianapolis, the charter school sector performs, on average, at one-third to two-thirds of a standard deviation above the district average. Of these five cities, Albany’s charter sector led, performing over one standard deviation above Albany’s district schools."

But the report notes the not every city's charter schools outperform the comparable district schools (much less statewide averages) and specifically recommends closing down ineffective charters at a steady clip.

The report identifies as Chicago's lowest performing charters as Catalyst Circle Rock, Catalyst, Galapagos, Kipp Ascend -- as well as some top performing ones such as LEARN, Locke, Namaste.


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  • Sorry, this study seems like the "usual charter advocacy" to me, and it still doesn't make a particularly compelling case. In Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, and Indianapolis, the charters perform within a standard deviation of the district average, which means the difference in the results could be due to chance. The study looks at the district and charter performance in reading and math at grade level bands. In Chicago, only 14% of the charters schools perform statistically significantly better than the district schools in grades 6-8 reading. In Chicago in grades 3-5 math, 16% of charters perform statistically significantly worse than the district.

    I think we can all agree that there are some charters in Chicago doing great work with their kids. There are also traditional CPS schools doing great work with their students. But in general, it seems that even with all the flexibility charters have, they're still doing about the same as regular schools. So why are we spending all this time, money, and energy to open schools that are performing about the same as the schools we already have?

  • In reply to Ed Observer:

    We were hoping that charters could become the seedbed for innovation in education. That they might figure out some better practices that could then be shared more widely. At least that's what I remember from the early charter conversations. But is CPS even taking a look at the practices in the higher performing charters for possible application in its regular schools? Who does that work within CPS? Who monitors where education is working and who creates a vehicle for cross-pollination? That's the missed opportunity here. Namaste and Polaris, for example, are providing a very different and very rich educational experience for children. Who is paying attention to anything other than test scores? Instead the lines have been drawn between charters and everyone else. We are going to have to innovate if we ever hope to offer Chicago children a quality education. The present system is broken ... even in the better performing schools. We're educating for the past not the future. Charters were supposed to be a vehicle for encouraging innovation. They aren't.

  • In reply to Ed Observer:

    It levels the playing field across socioeconomic classes. The wealthy and middle class have always had school choice - public, private or parochial. Charters are one way of bringing school choice to all parents. Another way would be to abandon all attendance boundaries which will probably happen when the system reaches 50/50% "neighborhood"/charter. Whether charters are "better" (according to some numeric value) is not the overiding issue.

  • I agree with district299reader about Namaste, I have not had enough direct experience with Polaris to comment intelligently about that charter school. But I think its absurd to argue charter schools "level the playing field across socioeconomic classes."

    There is no way a student from a very low income family who attends a charter school would be on a level playing field with my own non-disabled daughter who is currently in a doctoral program in agricultural economics with a concentration on market structures at the University of Illinois at Champaign Urbana. She attended Newberry Math and Science Academy and W Payton HS.

    She recieved extensive coaching for college admissions tests at family expense, she recieved extensive coaching for the ISAT during the summers while in elementary school along with coaching for the selective high school exam again at family expense. Our daughter was provided with numerous enrichment opportunities again at the expense of our family, for example travel to Europe while in high school, and visits to and discussions with agricultural producers and rural bankers in Wisconsin. She meet several economists who were family friends as a child including one current officer of the Federal Reserve.

    Most important of all our daughter had two college graduates for parents. Very few poor children come from that advantage. It was simply assumed she would go to and graduate from college. That was not even an aspirational goal, the aspirational goal even while in high school was for graduate school after college.

    Its simply absurd to believe that a poor urban student who attends even Urban Prep will get these types of advantages. There is no even playing field for poor students, that is an illusion.

    Rod Estvan

  • In reply to Rodestvan:

    Rod - you are misinterpreting what I meant to say (but wasn't precise enough). Parents with a bit of money have always had the ability to choose from several options beyond their attendance boundary restricted school. The most economically disadvantaged students were the most restricted in choosing a school. Charters change that dynamic. As far as all the other advantages you mention the mere presence of choice does not incease the levelling of the rest of field. You are absolutely right about that. However, for those parents who want to seek out a school which is more to their liking that option is available via charters.

    I would add that what does change the playing field, on many fronts, is a school like Payton where the current extended school community makes sure that the educational advantages associated with money are made available to just about all Payton students no matter what their economic situation is.

  • In reply to CPS Parent:

    Payton has relatively few students who even qualify for free or reduced lunch, 32.4% compared to the CPS average of 86% and a statewide average of 49%. There is a sociological reason for that.

    Rod Estvan

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