The newly released report on Chicago charter school performance by the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity fails to provide accurate information at a critical time for public schools in Chicago. Unfortunately, the report is simply the latest in a long trend of policy preferences masquerading as research. With so much at stake in our struggle to improve Chicago’s public schools, we must separate fact from fiction, and truths from half-truths.
This is a Community Voices submission and is moderated but not edited. The opinions expressed by Community Voices contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the TC Daily Planet.
First, Professor Orfield is simply wrong about charter graduation rates. Charter public schools have led Chicago in high school graduation at non-selective enrollment public schools for years, and successfully contributed to the overall district-wide increase in the high school graduation rate this past school year. Additionally, charter schools prepare students for college and success beyond high school. In 2012, the last school year with available data, 70 percent of charter school students enrolled in college, compared to the district average of 50 percent, and charter school graduates persisted in college at significantly higher rates than their peers.
Second, the data cited by Professor Orfield is limited and already out of date. Last week, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) released its annual ACT data. These results are a key indicator of college readiness and are indicative of a school’s effectiveness in preparing students for the future. Overall, the averages at both charter schools and district-run public schools increased from the previous year, which is the good news no one seems to cover. Once again, charter public high schools led the city and ranked as the top 12 non-selective public schools, achieving significantly higher scores in comparison to their peers at other non-selective high schools. These results were not driven by a few high-performing schools, 70% of charter schools outperformed the non-selective school average of 16.4 on the ACT.
The latest results also show that charter schools are proving what is possible for some student demographic groups, who for too long have not reached their full potential in our public education system. African-American, Hispanic, low-income and special education students attending charter schools achieved higher ACT scores compared to their peers at other open enrollment schools.
Charter schools are public schools. Like district-run, non-selective schools, charter schools are open to all children, do not charge tuition, and do not have special entrance requirements. When analyzing school performance data, it is critical to compare schools with similar demographics and student academic starting points to accurately measure a school’s impact on student learning.
This is not to say that all charter schools are excellent; we at the Illinois Network of Charter Schools have always acknowledged that we have work to do to ensure that all charter schools live up to their promise. But we cannot allow the biases and questionable conclusions drawn in the report to go unchallenged.
Chicago can no longer afford to limit possibility and opportunity for some families because of a lack of access to quality schools. The data clearly prove charter schools are part of the solution to improve education for all of our students. That is why more than 60,000 Chicago families have chosen charter public schools for their children with thousands more on waitlists. It’s time to prioritize student achievement and double down on good policy over political rhetoric. Our students and their futures count on it.
Andrew Broy is President of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools (INCS), a group that supports and advocates on behalf of Illinois charter public schools. Broy is a former public school teacher and civil rights attorney.
Related story: Study finds charter schools lag behind peers (Kevin Karner, The Minnesota Daily, 2014)