Charter school truths hit the front page

Charterfrontpage4-7-14

Today was not a good day for charter school public relations folks.

The Chicago Tribune’s front page carried the above headline (left) on a story that described the discipline policy of the Noble Network of Charter Schools as “extreme,” “stricter than zero tolerance,” and “out of proportion,” and shared an example of a Noble student who was given a demerit for saying “Bless you” when a fellow student sneezed.

PURE first brought Noble’s harsh discipline practices to light after a parent at the school told us about how its discipline code had affected her son, and our Freedom of Information Act request revealed that Noble raked in nearly $200,000 in student fines that year. Noblesuspensionsexpuls

Just over a month ago, the Tribune reported that the student expulsion rate for CPS charter schools was more than 30 times that of the rest of CPS.

Also today, the Chicago Sun-Times detailed a study it carried out with the Medill Data Project at Northwestern University which concluded that traditional CPS schools outperform privately-run charter and turnaround schools. From the Sun-Times/Medill story:

Rather than look at the percentage of students exceeding or meeting standards, some experts prefer to calculate average scores on the state tests. By that measure, too, elementary students at charter schools and neighborhood schools in Chicago were in a virtual tie on the reading and math exams last year, the Sun-Times/Medill Data Project analysis found. And the average test scores for charter high schools were only slightly higher than those at the city’s neighborhood high schools.

The analysis included results from 48 traditional CPS schools — almost all of them neighborhood schools — that the city closed after the last school year, citing poor academic performance, declining enrollment and the costs of maintaining aging buildings.

Neither charters nor neighborhood schools require admissions tests. Unlike charter schools, which can draw students from a broad geographic area, neighborhood schools must adhere to CPS’ attendance boundaries.

Some education experts say charters are most comparable to magnet schools — which dramatically outperform charters in Chicago — in that both use random lotteries when there are more applicants than available seats.

charterscoresidentical

 Last week in Springfield, it was clear that Illinois legislators are up to speed on many of the problems with charters. The Illinois Senate Education Committee voted to send several bills to the full Senate that will rein charters in and hold them accountable for their discipline policies, spending, and other problems.

It’s time to spread the intelligence to their Congressional counterparts, who recently held a hearing on a new proposal, HR 10, the “Success and Opportunity through Quality Charter Schools Act” with testimony from charter supporters only.

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Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.
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