New accountability for Chicago charter schools

March 28, 2012

Chicago charter schools will face tighter accountability under new procedures announced Wednesday.

Historically, charters have been granted and renewed for five-year periods. Now the district will shorten renewals to four, three, two or even one year, depending on a school’s performance, said Chief Portfolio Officer Oliver Sicat. 

CPS also may put performance targets into charter school contracts so that the district can act immediately if even one campus of a charter school doesn’t improve fast enough.

Two schools whose charters were renewed on Wednesday saw their contracts shorten.

ACE Tech’s charter agreement was renewed for only one year “as a result of the school’s chronic low performance since its inception,” according to a CPS press release.

Youth Connections Charter School, an umbrella organization for community-based schools largely serving former dropouts, got a three-year renewed because “some campuses within YCCS’s network have experienced better academic performances than others,” according to a CPS press release. “A three-year agreement allows the district to closely monitor the performance of all 23 campuses and take action on those that perform poorly.”

Several CPS charter schools have long struggled with low performance, and the district has faced criticism that it hasn’t done enough to promote charter school quality. As an example of what close monitoring can accomplish, Sicat touted the turnaround-type restructuring of the Basil campus of Chicago International Charter Schools.

At the district’s urging, the school’s operator agreed in December to replace the principal and, at the end of the school year, the rest of the staff and the school’s management organization, Sicat said.

Even so, the board gave a five-year contract renewal to Chicago International, which has 15 schools in Chicago and one in Rockford. The other charter and contract operators up for renewal also got five-year contracts, including Namaste Charter School, Passages Charter School, Noble Network of Charter Schools, L.E.A.R.N. Charter School, Academy of Communications and Technology Charter School, Perspectives Charter School, Polaris Charter Academy, and Frazier Academy.

Victory Education Partners, which currently runs CICS-Basil, began managing several more CICS campuses in fall 2011 as part of a shakeup that included a turnaround of another underperforming CICS campus, Washington Park.