Missed opportunity to find out what’s behind charter school success

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To write an entire issue about charters and ignore the tremendous change that has been broughtto the lives of charter students and their families is a totaldisservice to anyone interested in securing the best education forChicago’s children.

Your recent issue missed a huge opportunity to find out what is driving the success of Chicago’s charter schools.  You buried the fact that charters and contract schools, according to CPS’s most recent performance report, are significantly outperforming comparison schools—by 14% on the PSAE, 11% on the ISAT, 18% in graduation rates, and 16% in attendance.

Let’s learn how these schools are achieving superior outcomes with the same student demographic and how traditional schools can do the same.  

Catalyst’s questions about funding and teacher turnover also came to the wrong conclusions:

  • Do charters receive less money from government sources and do they have additional start-up costs that require them to fundraise?  Yes, and that’s why charters deserve fair and equitable per pupil funding.
  • Do charters dismiss teachers who are not serving students well, which may lead to higher levels of turnover?  Yes, they have the flexibility to hire exceptional teachers and dismiss those who are not performing.  Traditional CPS schools wish they could do the same, as your own article points out.
  • Do charters have trouble finding suitable buildings in some communities? Yes, and that is why CPS should make more buildings in underserved communities available to charter schools.

And finally, are there some charters which indeed are underperforming and unsustainable?  Yes, we believe they should be shut down.

What is the impact on a community when hundreds of charter school students will—in a matter of weeks—become the first in their families to go to college? What is the impact on a community when thousands of parents are relieved their children are now going to a safe school? The impact of charters is only just beginning to be realized. In the future, please include the voices of charter students and parents in your reports—they will tell you charters are providing them with a high quality public education and a chance to realize their dreams. 

Phyllis Lockett
President & CEO
The Renaissance Schools Fund

Editor’s note:Our analysis of 2010 test scores showed that charter schools do tend to outperform regular schools in their neighborhood, which we reported. However, charter schools do not outperform magnet schools, which have similar admissions policies—that is, admission by citywide lottery without regard to test scores. As for teacher turnover, a national study found no evidence, nor did our interviews, that high turnover at charters is the result of quick dismissal of low-performing teachers.