Posts tagged ‘chicago charter schools’

New School Fair: Field Report

So I actually hauled my butt out of the house, down to Soldier Field this weekend (grumbling the whole time because of the location.)  It’s probably the only time I’ll set foot in Soldier Field, which is kind of sad.   The Fair had lots of signs helping you find the free parking… then kind of dead-ended you in the parking lot.  I finally made my way to the event, with the help of another family.  I asked the mom why there were there and she said they were looking for a high school option for their daughter for next year — that their neighborhood high school (whose name I’ve forgotten) wasn’t a great option.

As we entered, there were many volunteers to lead us in, many nice signs declaring the schools as “among Chicago’s best” which I cynically noted is a vague phrase.  We had to stand in line and were told that we had to go first to a waiting area to watch a video before entering the fair, which annoyed me and the other mom.  The majority of the attendees were African American and most came as families so the place was very full/bustling.  I’m sure there were at least 1000 people there throughout the day.  Very busy, very noisy.

The video was very nicely produced and features news anchor Robin Roberston talking about the importance of eduction.  It gave pointers on navigating the fair.  It said that charters vary in how they do (but said the 70% of charter grads go to college) and that parents should ask about:
School performance
School culture
Is it a safe fit?

The video explained that charters are public schools run by independent non profits and are held to high standards by the city or they have their charter revoked.
They encouraged parents to talk to principals and visit the schools.  They also encouraged parents to apply to 5-10 schools to increase their chances and they have an “increase your odds” program that families can sign up for to stay apprised of deadlines and be notified when schools are not full late in the season and still accepting applicants.

I entered the fair and was instantly overwhelmed.  The first room was full of vendors like Sylan and others I wasn’t familiar with, nor did I want to spend my brain energy on.    The room of school was also huge and loud and overwhelming and I didn’t really know where to start.

Some of the schools had students walking around, passing out postcards.  I was immediately approached by 2 incredible boys from Quest, which as you may know, has been of great interest to me.  They are both 7th graders in their 2nd year there and came from a Hyde Park school.  They were incredibly smart and well spoken and answered every questions I posed to them like an adult would.  I ended up meeting their parents later who were very forthcoming about the school and the progress that is being made there.

I made my way around some tables and chatted briefly with some of the charters,, such as KIPP and UNO.  I asked some general questions.  There were so many that I hadn’t heard of – most located on the south or west side.   I sort of decided at that point to approach the fair from my own personal interests because otherwise I’d have had a brain aneurysm.  It was just too much.  A parent who was really looking for an elem or high school could have spent the entire day there if they really wanted to ask good questions and fill out applications.

So I talked to some of the current schools as well as some that were just approved:
The Orange School (will be an arts integration school)
The Montessori school in Englewood (principal came from Near North)
Chi Arts (after my detailed questions about the auditions/admissions I admitted that my son was in 4th grade and they looked at me like I was nuts)
Quest (they are still working out the discipline issues, but are making progress and the curriculum sounds incredible to me – super hands on)
Intrinsic Schools (a new charter that is founded by previous CPS teachers)
Academy for Global Citizenship (perhaps could be called a “hippy” school, didn’t print any materials but handed out seeds!)
Chicago Virtual Charter (very interesting! didn’t we see them at the top of some test score list?)
Another new charter whose name I can’t recall – 2 enthusiastic young teachers who said they’d had vast teacher turnover for the first 4 years but it was finally slowing down
OAE – always love these guys.  BIG NEWS.  I was told that CPS is looking to change the HS testing so kids will get test results BEFORE they apply for high schools.  No idea when this will happen, but it is clearly being talked about.  I inquired a bit about the IB process and asked if they publish score cutoffs.  Stumped the guy!  He asked and they told me that they do not because there are a serious of rounds of offers, so it’s not as clear cut as with the SEHSs.  I scored a phone number in case there are questions.
CICS – one campus, I cannot recall… talked with a SpEd teacher who said they have a good SpEd program there.  I’ll find the name of it.

So you walk around and talk and while there isn’t a lot of talk about performance, the schools state what it is about them that makes them different.  Some are about discipline, some about small classes, some about method of teaching.  In the absence of thinking about how charters affect the entire system, it’s hard not to get enthusiastic about the idea of offering parent a CHOICE about how their kids are taught.  Especially parents who may not have a lot of other choices in privates – here is the chance to pursue a different way of learning for their kids.  There is a lot of enthusiasm there and ideas that sound great and new thinking.  (Similar enthusiasm when you go to the NPN fair among publics and private… most school sound good when you ask them questions.)

The new charters have people who seem to be on a mission to try a new way of educating kids – particularly lower income kids.  In a perfect world, it’s nice to offer a choice to parents.  I left there overwhelmed but impressed with most of what I saw.   As I was walking back to the parking lot, I read HSObsessed’s email about the WBEZ article that 1/3 of the schools at the fair are Level 3.  Jeez.  Kind of like a slap in the face after talking to all these people with good intentions.

My assumption is that most of the people attending the fair come from a neighborhood with Level 3 schools.  Maybe the fact that only 1/3 are Level 3 looks good, given that they have a 2/3 chance of not getting in a Level 3 school.  Also of note, some of the best charters were not there.  You know how at the NPN fair, schools like Hawthorne never showed up (because frankly, they don’t need your application.)  I noticed that Namaste and CICS Irving Park did not attend – perhaps some of the other best scoring charters did not.  Some of these school have to sell themselves to fill up.

I still think that having these education choices is a cool idea.  But it brings me back to the inherent craziness that there really are very few “choices” in CPS.  Many of these parents will apply to 5-10 school and take what the get.  Be it Montessori (principal told me many parents the first year didn’t know what Montessori was) or Quest (parents wanted a charter, child isn’t really suited to hands on, open learning) or Urban Prep (guys looking so impressive in their suits) or the hippy school or the Orange arts school.  It would be so much better if families and schools could match up a little better so a school could find families who support the mission.

I asked about discipline and “counseling out” at a few tables.  I didn’t get many specifics and most of the schools say they work closely with kids who are falling behind or having issues to help them try to succeed.

I talked to a woman from the Edison Park neighborhood who was mad that she doesn’t have any charters near her.  She understands that the school perform well, but didn’t love the CPS method of education and wanted some choices.

Yes, some of the tables had candy.  They certainly were not bribing children with it by any stretch of the imagination.  You know how when you go to a convention/fair and you’re going to be there for several grueling hours?  Half the time the candy is eaten by the people who are working the tables.  The only food available that I saw was hot pretzels/nachos/popcorn so the candy was sustenance for many people there, including me.  No visible balloons either.  We all got a free Walgreen’s shopping bag and a crap-ton of paper.

On the way home and since, I’m still pondering the role of charters.  Should we be offering choice?  If CPS hasn’t fixed the crummiest of the CPS schools, should parents have these options as a means of some hope?  Why do the good intentions of some of these charters fail and end in level 3 schools?  Can a charter high school take kids with low incoming skills and turn them around by graduation?  What is the goal of some of these new charter founder?  Doing things a better/different way? Making money? Both?  One revealed to me the massive effort it’s taken for 5+ years to get the school going.  It sounds arduous.  But then the hope of college entry compared to the CPS dropout factories.  Isn’t that worth something?  And finally, am I so old now that I can’t tell teenage students from young teachers?  Apparently so.


December 9, 2012 at 8:49 pm 144 comments

Charters growing in CPS – up to 25% of schools?

Charters and neighborhood schools – can we co-exist? (I need something cute to take my mind off the school stuff.)

So one of the big news stories about CPS today was the approval to expand charters by another 60 schools in five years, which could tally up to 25% of CPS schools.  As you may have figured out, I’m neither fully in favor of nor against charters, but I have to admit that 25% is starting to sound like a lot.  The Trib story is below.  Apparently this move opens the city up to Bill Gate $ as well as some of the bigger (better?) charter operators.

Since I like data, I like Seth Lavin of Chicago Schools Wonks e-mail newsletter (subscription link is in the links list on the bottom right side of the page).  He says:

As always the big question is: Is this good for kids?

I’d say we have no power to predict, from the plan itself, whether any of this will actually make things better. These days everyone (or at least everyone I like) acknowledges that new charter schools are just as likely to be worse than existing options as they are to be better.

That means just opening 60 charter schools doesn’t improve anything. Quality’s all that matters. 60 new high-quality charter schools would be wonderful for Chicago and, as I see it, definitely worth the disruption caused by all that student, teacher and principal reshuffling and the opportunity cost of the money and attention this is going to soak up. On the other hand 60 new schools of uneven quality would be a trust-damaging, time-wasting disruption.

So are these 60 charter schools going to be quality charter schools?

CPS says YES. That’s the good news. Rahm, to his credit, has talked about quality (not school type) as the only variable that matters. This application’s full of promises about “quality” and “rigorous high quality standards” for the new schools.

I also thought this was an interesting spin on things on Diane Ravitch’s blog (below.)  Is this “failure?”  Or finding a way to bring resources to a failing school district.  Really, if Brizard had cracked the code on CPS that quickly, he’d have figure something out that has seemed to elude the rest of urban school systems.

From Diane:

Chicago Superintendent of Schools J.C. Brizard has admitted that he does not know how to improve Chicago’s public schools. He did so by asking the Gates Foundation to supply millions of dollars to open another 100 charter schools.   Handing public schools over to private management is a frank admission of failure on the part of school leadership. It amounts to saying, “I don’t know how to improve them. Let’s turn the kids over to the private sector and see if they can do it.

Trib story

By Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah, Chicago Tribun

Chicago Public Schools plans to create 60 more charter schools over five years, which would increase the share of privately run charters to about a quarter of all schools in the district.

The plan for charter growth, part of a larger proposal for 100 new schools over the same five years, is laid out in an application seeking $20 million for charter schools from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Right now the district’s 675 schools include 110 charters, which get tax dollars but are privately controlled. Private organizations also operate an additional 27 schools, 19 of which are managed by the Academy for Urban School Leadership.

There is a waiting list of 10,000 students for charter schools, which have been growing for the past seven years at a rate similar to what’s planned for the next five, according to CPS.

“I’m not looking for a quota, I’m not looking for a percentage, I’m looking to respond to a need,” said CPS chief Jean-Claude Brizard. “As a whole, people are not satisfied with their neighborhood schools. Clearly, there’s a demand.”

CPS said the 40 remaining schools in the five-year plan would include some privately run turnaround schools, as well as magnets, International Baccalaureate programs and STEM schools (which specialize in science, technology, engineering and math), all run by the district.

The application to the Gates Foundation, made jointly by CPS and stakeholders in charter schools, seeks $20 million to secure $100 million in funds for construction and renovation of buildings for charter schools.

Even with 60 new schools, charters would make up a smaller proportion of all schools at CPS than they do at some other large urban districts — in New Orleans, for example, about 70 percent of schoolchildren attend charters.

But critics — prominent among them the Chicago Teachers Union — say the growth of charters signals the decline of CPS-run neighborhood schools. Additionally, state report card data released last fall suggested many charters in Chicago are performing no better than some of the same neighborhood schools. More than two dozen charters scored below district averages.

“If a new charter opens up or a charter expands, they are heavily marketed and parents are aggressively recruited,” said Sarah Hainds, a researcher with the Chicago Teachers Union. “So the neighborhood schools have had a declining enrollment, and that further facilitates the excuse of why (CPS) should close down these schools. More schools will be on the chopping block.”

In December, CPS became the latest large urban district to sign an agreement with the Gates Foundation, pledging greater cooperation and collaboration between the city’s charter and neighborhood schools. That compact brought an initial award of $100,000 but also allowed CPS to apply for money from a $40 million pool of funds.

May 18, 2012 at 9:32 pm 178 comments

“Lies, damned lies, and statistics.” And charter schools.

I’ve spent the day (well, in addition to working) mulling over several interesting Internet articles about CPS about the success (or lack thereof of charter schools.)

I started the day by getting a link to this article that features a video made by some high school students (Sullivan, a neighborhood high school) that purports that Rahm Emanuel (a charter school supporter) “lied” in a recent speech when he boldly stated that “If you take out Northside [College Prep], if you take out Walter Payton, the seven best performing high schools are all charters.”  OK, anyone with minimal knowledge of SE High Schools would immediately know that there’s no way that’s correct.  I don’t need to see any data to know that the other Selective Enrollment high schools would be at the top of that list.  I checked some numbers this morning and confirmed that top 7 scoring schools (PSAE composite 2010 Meets/Exceeds) are all SE schools.  None of the top 10 schools are charters.

It took me about 1 minute to infer that Rahm meant “The Northsides, the Paytons, etc,” meaning all selective schools.  That seemed a little more plausible.

I then happened upon this Trib article about parents getting letters this week about Charter school acceptance.  Charters operate via lottery, like the magnets do (Or did… magnets now include a neighborhood proximity lottery for many schools – elementary at least – doe this apply to HS too?)  The story features a mother who has done a ton of research and legwork in the hopes of getting her kids into charters, which she feels offers small classes, college prep curriculum, longer school day and graduation rates.,0,5064586.story

 In that article, I saw the following blurb, which is clearly what was driving Rahm’s statement:  Critics have maintained that charters, which get government funding, take resources away from traditional schools. While seven of the top 10 nonselective city high schools are charters, as measured by the ACT average, many charter schools perform no better than their neighborhood counterparts.”

 This confirmed my hunch that the 7-out-of-10 data refers to non-selective schools.  I checked the data they mentioned, and sure enough, charters DO have a strong presence in the top schools.  But… so do magnet schools. And military schools (also selective.. maybe they don’t count.) And Small high schools (which get a special designation under CPS.)

 So does this make a case for magnets?  Kind of.  I think it DOES make a case for schools that use some kind of selection process, even a random lottery.   The lottery pulls out kids from families whose parents are concerned about education and are willing/able to make the effort to seek information, fill out applications, figure out transportation, and have siblings in multiple schools if that’s what it takes.

 Although many of the top non-selective high schools are charters, not all charter HS are excelling.  Worth noting, none of the bottom high schools in the city are charters.

 So the million dollar question is where to funnel limited fund.  Given a horrifying shortage of education funds in out state/city, do we spend money on charters that will benefit the kids who win a spot?  Open more magnet schools?  SE high schools? Or try to find a way to improve the neighborhood schools with limited funds?  The kids’ video says that DeValle is in favor of improving neighborhood schools but doesn’t mention how or with what funds.  Who wouldn’t want to support the kids at Sullivan where 33% are reading at grade level and 22% are doing math at grade level? The question is how….?  (A question I hope to explore a bit more in the next few months.)

 After my day of reading/number crunching, I remain open towards charters (perhaps biased by some of the recent discussion here.)  The charters do appear more at the top of the list than at the bottom of the list performance-wise.  But I don’t think the numbers make a compelling case in favor of shutting them down OR accelerating their presence in the city.  They’re possibly another decent option (or “choice” as CPS likes to call their lotteries) for parents to opt out of the local schools.  Which makes the task of improving the neighborhood high schools even more daunting.  Ergh.  I truly don’t know what I’d do if I were in charge of CPS.

February 11, 2011 at 5:01 pm 60 comments




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