Interested in a new Montessori Charter School?

July 1, 2009 at 10:44 am 24 comments

I’ve gotten word of a potential Montessori charter school starting up in what I think is the Old Irving Park area.  The group is called the Avondale Montessori Academy and they’re aiming to get the school started for next year (2010 – ooh, that looks so futuristic, doesn’t it?  Wonder if the kids will be wearing jet packs to school by then?)

It looks like they still need people to get involved to get it off the ground.

NEW INFO: July 9 – Upcoming Official Community Forum
AMA will participate in an official Chicago Public Schools Community Forum on July, 9 2009 from 7:00 – 8:30 p.m at the Irving Park YMCA. The address is 4251 West Irving Park Rd.
This forum is CRUCIAL to the success of our potential school. Please contact us to today to learn how you can support our efforts. Please
click here to learn more about the community forum, or visit www.AvondaleMontessori.org/resources/Flyer1.pdf.

It could be a great addition to Chicago’s Montessori school options, many of which are really expensive (not to mention near-impossible to get into) and the current CPS Montessori schools which require luck from the lottery Gods for a spot.  I don’t know much (actually anything) about how the Charter School process works… if you get involved early does that secure your child a spot?

I personally am a fan of the Montessori method even though my son wasn’t a great fit for it.  As with anything, there are pros and cons, but I think that especially for the older grades it really encourages a good independant work style and lets the kids pursue topics that are of interest to them.

Here’s the group’s web site.

http://avondalemontessori.org/

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Entry filed under: Montessori.

Coming soon…. Year-End Thoughts on CPS Kindergarten

24 Comments Add your own

  • 1. also obsessed  |  July 1, 2009 at 3:57 pm

    I like Montessori too, but if they have to compete in ISATS (and if the school really cares about that, which many public ones do….) there is a huge disconnect where it comes to test taking..at least that is what I understand form other CPS Montessori schools….

    of course this is all heresay on my part, just telling you what I”ve heard from a few Montessori parents….

    so this will or will not be part of the CPS system?

  • 2. cpsobsessed  |  July 2, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    Ah, very good point. I asked a Montessori mom friend today what age the math scores supposedly even out and she said she was told 3rd grade, but now her daughter is lagging behind after 4th grade too and the school said that was still OK by Montessori standards. So in theory, a charter Montessori school could have low test scores published in 3rd and 4th grade. So how will they deal with the wrath of CPS on that and the efforts to keep the school going? Could be a challenge.
    Even in Montessori schools there is still a lot of worksheets and memorization when it comes to math – it is sort of inherently required to learn the basics, I guess.

  • 3. rodentface  |  July 3, 2009 at 8:19 am

    First, the Board of Education says charter schools are not CPS schools.

    Second, charters are not held to the same standards on test scores as neighborhood schools so the low test scores shouldn’t be a problem.

    Third, getting involved early can’t hurt. Charter school enrollments are entirely at the discretion of the charter. Every charter school is selective enrollment. Nearly all select students based on parental commitment and involvement, some consider grades, student behavior, test scores, and/or other factors. Most charters are very strict when it comes to discipline. Some charters kick out or counsel out large numbers of students. For instance, charters are known to remove students for poor grades or for minor discipline problems (relative to neighborhood schools which are subject to various state regulations; charters are not), minor attendance issues (again, relative to neighborhood schools), or lack of parental participation.

    Be sure to ask about teacher retention rates if a charter already has campuses open in Chicago or other cities. It’s extremely important and it varies widely. For instance, Noble Street charters typically retain teachers fairly well while KIPP Ascend retains barely 30% of its teachers year to year.

  • 4. CPS Mom  |  July 3, 2009 at 9:34 am

    Also, another thing about charters…they should be compared to magnet selective enrollment and magnet lottery enrollment schools. Charters may be better than neighborhood schools but when you compare the scores to CPS magnets their scores are lower. It takes a certain caliber of parent to complete the application process, therefore one could infer that the parents who go through this process are more active in their children’s education. Charter schools don’t necessarily have to have certified teachers and are not required to inform parents when the teacher is not certified. I am not a fan of montessori because many children need more structure than montessori can provide. My sister in law just removed my nephew from a montessori private school at the end of second grade because he was behind academically. She watched my son who was in Kindergarten out read his cousin (the second grader). Now granted my son is in a classical program but the difference was scary. In addition, my son spelled better and could mentally complete math problems. There may be a need for charters in neighborhoods with low performing neighborhood schools but I would never allow my children to attend a charter school. Charter schools are undermining public schools. CPS should give failing neighborhood schools more resources to address the needs of students and then we wouldn’t need charters. Just my two cents 🙂

  • 5. cpsobsessed  |  July 3, 2009 at 10:32 am

    Thanks for the info.
    So what is the general theory about why the charter schools aren’t doing as well as expected? One would think that by selecting the students they’d be set up to look good?
    I guess it makes sense that they’re ranked between magnet and neighborhood on test scores. For now, I think most parents go with a proven magnet if they have the option, perhaps choosing the Charter as the next choice.

    Despite my love of the Montessori method, I too have plenty of criticisms for it. All in all, I think there is a bell curve of kids based on their fit with it. Some kids excel and thrive, others like my son are not a good match, while many kids are in the middle – there are pros and cons and these kids could probably fare well in either type of classroom. I do think it’s nice that Chicago could have a free Montessori option. It’s frustrating as a parent that if you want a PreK-8 Montessori education you have to shell out around $100K.

  • 6. Not so obsessed, not so impressed  |  July 3, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    re: CPSMOM… Because Montessori is focused on comprehension, not route memorization, there’s likely to be a disparity in certain areas at certain stages. The method works best if followed through.

    That said, it is NOT for everyone. Some children do need more guidance and structure. But I wonder about how “not for” someone the method is when they’ve been pulled out for one reason or another at ages 7-9. I suspect some of the “lag” evens out. In a way, comparing Montessori educated elementary schoolers and their traditionally schooled parallels is a bit like comparing apples and oranges.

    That said, I went through a traditional primary education and two of my siblings went through a complete Montessori primary education. I’ve noticed that, come high school, both of them had far fewer struggles with ADVANCED maths (trigonometry/calculus) and physical sciences than I did, despite being on a level playing field in all other respects (IQ, environment, etc). They just had a better core understanding of it the subjects.

    If this PARTICULAR school rises to its aspirations to membership with the American Montessori
    Society, the Illinois Montessori Society and the North American Montessori Teacher Association, then parents’ concerns about the standards and certifications of the faculty are probably unfounded. While it’s true that charter schools aren’t obligated to hire certified teachers, accredited Montessori programs do have their own (high) standards for teacher education.

  • 7. Works with Charters at CPS  |  July 6, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    First, charter schools ARE CPS schools. They are public schools with OPEN enrollment and any child is eligible as long as they are in the district.

    Second of all, it is a random lottery that decides enrollment. Charters target underserved groups to apply and then 50% of the spots are reserved in a different lottery for students in the community (which is almost always an underserved community).

    Third, the success of charters is entirely judged off their test scores and how they compare to the neighborhood schools. If they don’t perform in that respect. I don’t know where everyone is getting their information from but it is definitely misinformation.

  • 8. cpsobsessed  |  July 6, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    Yes, I think it’s clear that charter schools in the city of Chicago are by default part of the Chicago school district. That’s about all that’s clear to me though!
    In the CPS directory it says that the Charter school admission requirement if by application with random lottery if there are more applications than spaces. It says to contact each school directly so it’s not the same as the central CPS lottery process. It says there are no attendance boundaries.
    I WAS under the impression that the schools tend to target kids who might be “at risk” in the system for lack of English skills or socio-economic background.

    The CICS website says the following:
    Enrollment in Chicago International Charter School is open to all students, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, or disability status. All Chicago International campuses have the same application and admission policies, and because Chicago International is one school with many campuses, we use only one high school application and one elementary school application.

    So from reading it, it seems like it’s for everyone. I remember once reading a brochure or something that did give me the impression that the school near us was mainly low income kids though. So maybe that isn’t official, but rather an “unspoken” aspect of the charters?

  • 9. Works with Charters at CPS  |  July 6, 2009 at 3:57 pm

    Under the Renaissance 2010 initiative (not sure of how familiar people are with it) the Renaissance Schools Fund will provide the start-up grants to charters and contract schools proposing to serve low-income and overcrowded communitities. The Office of New Schools, the charter and contract authorizer of CPS, seeks to close the achievement gap in Chicago by focusing on those communities as it approves schools.

    I’m not familiar with how the charter approval process works in other cities but I know in Chicago it is entirely directed at providing underserved groups of kids with better educational options and outcomes.

    I am surprised however at how muddled the information seems to be to the general public. It’s clear to me because it’s integral to the work I do, but I wonder if Ren2010 and ONS would benefit by putting more information out there.

  • 10. cpsobsessed  |  July 6, 2009 at 9:46 pm

    I guess the key question is how well the target group (underserved families) is aware of the Charter school concept. I am not part of that target group nor, I suspect, are that many readers here. It’s possible that the people for whom the program is intended are quite aware. I hope. I have said many times that communication is one of the failings of CPS for what seems to be budget issues and general low priority.

    I would ask whether the existing charter schools have a good number of applicants to fill the spaces? if so, it seems that the communication efforts are working.

    I’m still curious about what the basis of criticism is for the charter schools – that they don’t surpass test scores of neighborhood schools from where they pull. I would really think that by selecting out the type of families who value education, that alone would contribute to higher test scores — much the same as the magnet school concept. As I said, the info I read about CICS sounded so impressive, it’s hard to believe that the idea isn’t working better than it is.

    Thanks for the info. Very interesting.

  • 11. CPS Montessori Mom  |  July 8, 2009 at 8:32 am

    Charters schools are just as accountable for test scores as any other CPS or state school. If they are under performing they are at risk of being closed. CICS is a successfully rum charter group. The Bucktown location has higher scores then Drummond or Pritzker ( gifted). Math and Reading are in the 80 percentile. All of the teachers at Chicago International Charter schools are certified. The principals I know of come from the New Leaders for New Schools program.

    Passages Charter is run by CICS too. Their test scores a pretty impressive too.

    Namaste is another progressive charter doing very well.

    In traditional cps schools the short school day creates a rushed atmosphere. Most days my child cant finish lunch! If they cant finish lunch how can they concentrate on learning with a growling stomach. Recess is giving at the teachers discretion. Programs are taken away when admissions are low.

    Charters have the same admissions policy as a magnet. The difference is they do not break down by race. It is refreshing to not have to check a box for hispanic or caucasion, etc. There is no 30% caucasion 70% Minority admissions requirement like CPS.
    The applications for Charters are more in depth then a standard CPS application.

    My child is at a cps montessori school . We are struggling with the balance between cps requirements and Montessori philosophies. It is very hard work to mesh both and please the district. Under a charter it will be easier because you are allowed certain freedoms from cps. The charters that I have looked are not struggling to raise money for this and that. The companies that run them, run them well. They have longer days, foreign language, core knowledge curriculum, a plethora of after school activities, sports and yes RECESS!

    I am getting the idea that most who post here think that Charters schools are for poor people . I think the only thing that is muddled is the perception of Charters. Charters are for everyone!

    At this moment I am very leary of Ron Huberman and his management team. The replacement for AIO’s is the equivalent of hiring management from Walmart! At this point I am seriously looking at enrolling in a Charter.

  • 12. rodentface  |  July 8, 2009 at 11:32 am

    Re: Open Enrollment at Charters
    A random lottery does not equate to open enrollment. Neighborhood schools are open enrollment – they are required by law to accept any student who resides in the attendance boundary. Additionally, there is typically no enrollment cap. Charters cap enrollment and are not open to all. They are open only to those who apply and who are accepted.

    Most charters require an application process that includes at least some essay work. (Not all charters make applications freely available, by the way.) Most require prior grades and behavioral reports. Most require parental interviews, some even require multiple interviews. Most also mandate parental involvement.

    If charters were truly open enrollment, or if the random lottery was truly random, charters would not need all of this information BEFORE a student is accepted. A true random lottery would look something like this: take all students within the attendance boundary, randomly select the number needed, and send those students to that charter. What happens in charters currently is neither open nor random.

    There are other enrollment issues to consider. For instance, many charters select the demographic to whom they advertise. As two charter operators I’ve spoken with have freely admitted, they select for strong family support and good behavior.

    Charters are also not restricted, as neighborhood schools are, when it comes to removing students. KIPP Ascend, for example, begins in 5th grade with 32 or so students in each class. By the time those same classes reach 8th grade they are in the low 20s or high teens. What happens to those students? They are removed through various strategies and mechanisms. Take Noble Streets Rowe & Clarke as an example: if a student fails a *single* class (even if it is an elective) they are required to take summer school for a fee. If they do not take summer school they are required to repeat the entire year’s coursework. So, despite only missing a single or 1/2 of a credit, they now are a full year behind. Obviously, most parents send their students to the neighborhood school (who is required to accept them, even mid-year) rather than have them repeat the entire grade because of a single class. Students at some charters are also charged money for petty disciplinary issues – like wearing the wrong color belt – and then dismissed from the school if they don’t pay or the problem is persistent. These students are also returned to neighborhood schools along with more severe disciplinary issues. And, charters make decline to accept special education students because they don’t have the facility to handle their needs.

    Re: community spots
    Are you sure all charters reserve 50% of all seats for students from within the immediate community? I don’t believe this is true, but would be glad to stand corrected.

    Re: Accountability
    If charters were judged off of test scores the same as neighborhood schools, some of the current charters would already be closed for poor performance. In this last round of school closings there were some neighborhood schools closed that were outperforming the local charter. If charter schools were accountable in the same way as everyone else, some of them would already have been forced shut. That obviously hasn’t happened. Has a charter ever been revoked in Chicago for poor performance? (Of course, student success is not measured solely by massive, standardized high stakes exams.) Also, charter operators with multiple campuses are not required to provide disaggregated data on student performance. It is obvious that some campuses are being propped up by other campuses within certain charter organizations.

    All that said, I understand why some parents find charters appealing. Having attended multiple intro sessions to various charters and listened to parents it’s clear that charters can be a place to send children to get them away from the “riff raff” in the neighborhood schools. This is the number one priority of parents I’ve encountered at charter events. Charters can be a place where parent involvement is promoted and supported, something neighborhood schools obviously need to work on, though they are lacking resources from downtown to do so. And the generally extremely strict discipline at charters is also attractive to parents. More strict discipline is also something I’d like to see in more of neighborhood schools, but they are beholden to state law, unlike charter schools.

  • 13. To CPS Montessori Mom  |  July 8, 2009 at 3:13 pm

    You should really check your facts first. CICS has some low performing campuses. ISBE reports on them as one big group, however CPS.EDU recently started reporting individual campus scores. Are you aware that under NCLB they are in the restructuring implementing phase and with the state they are on Academic watch status year 5. CICS is not doing well in one category—students with disabilities. Also, their HS graduation rate under NCLB guidelines has not been met. In addition, ISBE school report card website indicates that 6% of teachers at CICS are not highly qualified (meaning not certified).

    Namaste only has two years of test data and likely doesn’t have enough students with disabilties to count in the AYP figures. Ditto for Passages which only has 3 years worth of data. Lets see how they progress as more years pass.

    Charter schools IMHO should not educate children with disabilities because they don’t have the resources. Charters can easily expell students and cap attendance rates, which is something CPS can not do. Charters should not be compared to neighborhood schools. They should be compared to magnet (non-testing lottery) schools and then you’ll see that the charters really don’t do any better.

    Just be careful when selecting a charter school you.

  • 14. Charter School Veteran  |  July 9, 2009 at 8:27 am

    There is a bit of misinformation on this thread. I just want clear a few things up:

    1. Charters cannot (and should not) be compared to magnet schools. Magnet schools can selectively enroll students. Charters cannot do this in the least bit.

    2. Charters admit students based upon the submission of an application and the result of random, blind lottery. The only preference that is given is for the siblings of currently enrolled students.

    3. Charters in Chicago tend to focus on providing choices and services for low-income families for the simple fact that these families don’t often have the level of education choice that other families do.

    4. Most charter schools have a HUGE waitlist. The only exception to that to my knowledge is the Choir Academy, which is closing this year due to dwindling enrollment.

    5. The suggestion that Montessori classrooms lack structure is patently false. Montessori classrooms have schedules. They have work and assignments. The biggest difference is that students are taught at a level they can understand…

  • 15. Charter School Veteran  |  July 9, 2009 at 8:28 am

    Just one other thing…I am by no means a Montessori expert. I’ve been researching a school for my child, and Montessori seems to be a good fit. I have a friend who has opened a private Montessori school in the near suburbs, and my conversations with her have really increased my knowledge about how the process works. I’d like to observe some classes to see for myself, though.

  • 16. rodentface  |  July 9, 2009 at 9:56 am

    Charter School Veteran,

    Re: 1 & 2
    Every charter school practices selective enrollment. So do Catholic schools and private schools. Though charter folk and proponents are defensive about this matter, it is in no way a value judgement – it is a plain reality. As I said before a blind, random lottery sounds nice but does not equate to the non-selective nature of neighborhood schools which are required to accept all comers.

    A school that accepts every student from the neighborhood who walks in the door is non-selective. A school that does not accept all students is, by definition, selective. We can debate what the outcome of those selection procedures are and how they impact school environment, test scores, student learning, etc., but on the matter of selecting students there is no debate. Charter schools are selective.

    Because charters are selective it is inappropriate to compare them to neighborhood schools. Unfortunately, charter operators, politicians, and the media routinely make the mistake of doing so. On the other hand, just because charters are selective does not mean they should be compared to magnets because the selection processes can be quite different.

    Some charters require more than an application to be enrolled. Required interviews, mandatory parental trainings, and parent-student contracts come immediately to mind, as do fees and fines. Likewise, selection can and does take place after the school year has started. See my KIPP example above for an obvious illustration.

    Even with the presence of a random blind lottery, nearly every charter selects, at a bare minimum, for students with motivated and involved parents.

    Re: 4
    Yes, some charter schools have wait lists. Some don’t. And The Choir Academy closed not because of declining students but due to their inability to acquire private financing to supplement the tax dollars they received. (The ability to augment public funds with private dollars is one of the reasons a few Noble charters have done quite well -money allows for the ability to attract and retain top teacher talent, invest in incredible facilities and technology, and develop very slick, professional advertising and public relations.)

  • 17. to cpsobsessed  |  July 10, 2009 at 1:37 am

    You never posted my response to the charter lover and I think its unfair. Was the truth too muvh to handle?

  • 18. cpsobsessed  |  July 10, 2009 at 8:45 am

    Sorry, lost track of that one. I’m not used to getting a flow of comments!
    I think your points are wise, although reading the CICS site last night it gave data about high school that seemed to suggest they’re doing much better than regular CPS. I don’t know if I agree that the charters should be compared to the magnets if they focus on at-risk kids. I see CICS is 93% Af-Am and Hispanic. Based on socio-economics, there’s no way they could perform as well as magnets that are balanced differently on race and also tend to attract more upper-income families. (Remember you are talking to a research geek here.)

  • 19. rodentface  |  July 10, 2009 at 8:59 am

    Cpsobsessed,

    Ahhh, research geeks are good! Since CPS and charters currently compare themselves to neighborhood schools, do you feel that is an appropriate comparison?

  • 20. cpsobsessed  |  July 10, 2009 at 9:18 am

    Good question! I think it ends up being comparing apples, oranges, pears, etc across the different school types. Neighborhood school demos are so dramatically different, I think it’d be worth comparing a charter in a certain neighborhood with the local school. The data shows that charters do well at helping the lowest-scoring kids so they may be teaching classes at a slower pace to help these kids… so that would make me think they’re going to have a tougher time getting high scores. However if they can ask kids to leave for behavior problems or very low performance, that gives them an advantage.
    See, it’s all so muddy. Argh.
    I wish CPS would set up more “controlled experiments” like taking 2 similar neighborhood schools and sending double the teachers into one of them to see what happens. Or taking a whole class from a neighborhood school and sending them to CICS for several years to compare them with the other class that stayed local.
    The way it is, it’s just so hard to compare. What do you think?

  • 21. rodentface  |  July 10, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    Charters have tremendous advantages over neighborhood schools so I think it is totally inappropriate to compare the two even if they are in the same neighborhood. They are simply too different to compare because of the selection processes which are both active and passive, intentional and unintentional. And I agree the charter/magnet comparison isn’t quite right either.

    Like you, I would love to see a charter simply accept all students within a boundary – then we’d see how the model holds up because it is forced to service everyone like neighborhood schools. (We’ve already seen how selective traditional schools perform – very well.) Charters probably have positives to offer, but with the current setup and such poorly conceived research there’s simply no way to confirm it beyond trusting The Force.

    I love your idea of doubling the teachers in a building, too. I bet that would be a real eye opener!

  • 22. CharterTeacherwannabe  |  July 14, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    NCLB now REQUIRES teachers at charter schools to be certified. Hires before this took effect were grandfathered in and not fired. I know this because I wanted to teach at a Charter, and with a Ph.D, ten years of college teaching experience, and though the Principal is a friend of mine; he informed me that there was not a chance in h*ll he could hire me. Certification means very little in terms of quality teachers. The Education courses I took as an undergrad drove me from the major. Contentless drivel most of them. One of the advantages of charter schools at their beginning was that they could put innovative think out side the box types in the classroom. Another casualty of NCLB.

  • 23. CICS_Mom  |  November 20, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    There are some odd comments here, with a lot of people speaking as if from knowledge but not really being right.

    -We are at CICS Irving Park
    -It is random lottery with sibling preference
    -They are required by law to inform parents of each teacher’s credentials. I just filled out the form the other day (they sent it to me, I did not request it)
    -My son is in kindergarten and already reading 20+ words, speaking spanish and doing first grade math. They are not even teaching that at the neighborhood school (we started there)
    -Yes, it’s selective enrollment but only in the most specific sense (i.e. they don’t just accept anyone)
    -They wear uniforms (we love this!)
    -They have a positive reinforcement system that rewards kids in a big ceremony monthly for good behavior. My son is desperate to stay on “green” so he can be rewarded in the monthly “green team” ceremony.
    -They have onsite aftercare, extended day, and extended year
    -They test the kids regularly and offer differentiated lessons and homework based on the results.
    -They have recess daily
    -They have an involved parents organization

    For us, the benefits of onsite after care, foreign language beginning in kindergarten, longer day and year, and uniforms were huge, especially since the curriculum compares to that of our friends kids in Skinner and Disney II. We are amazed at what he has learned in two months.

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