An Open Letter From INCS: Public Charter Schools Deserve Continued Support

Dec 22, 2010, 15:16 ET from Illinois Network of Charter Schools

CHICAGO, Dec. 22, 2010 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Last week, critical decisions regarding opening and expanding charter school options for Chicago families were tabled by the Chicago Public Schools. The perception, fueled by speculation in several local papers, is that special interest groups caused the delay.  In fact, the Chicago Sun-Times went so far as to claim that the Renaissance 2010 initiative to launch 100 new schools has achieved its aim and is now "dead."  This would certainly surprise the thousands of Chicago families clamoring for high-quality public school options.  

Innovative, well-designed new charter schools deserve a chance to serve students.  The three new proposals will bring real innovation to the city and will provide new opportunities for neighborhoods, including the first Montessori charter school to Chicago.  Two of the charter campuses delayed by last week's decision — Chicago International Charter School and the UNO Network of Charter Schools — have a track record of educating children in some of our most challenged communities.  Indeed, all three of CICS's high school campuses outperformed comparison averages on the ACT and PSAE.  Likewise, UNO's schools have achieved strong academic results while building charter schools in parts of the city that need quality public school seats, thus alleviating overcrowding.  Perhaps the best indication of the need for such options is that fact that both CICS and UNO have long waiting lists for their schools filled with parents demanding something different than their zoned school.

Charter schools are not the silver bullet of education reform, but they were never designed to be.  What they are designed to do is to provide high-quality public school options for students who are not currently well served.  "To those who suggest that charter schools are somehow not 'neighborhood' schools, I encourage you to visit our charter schools and talk to their parents, most of whom live in surrounding neighborhoods," remarked Andrew Broy, President of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools.  In the final analysis, charter schools are accountable directly to the families they serve and do not benefit from compulsory attendance to keep enrollment up.  And in 2010, those families have spoken:  7,000 new Chicago families joined the charter sector just this year.

"Charter public schools represent growth and achievement in a district which is otherwise losing students to poverty, apathy, and frustrated desire every year," Broy continued.  "In fact, if one examines Chicago school enrollment trends over the past seven years, the main reason CPS has stopped losing students is because of charter enrollment growth."  The charter sector in Chicago added 7,000 seats this academic year, keeping Chicago's overall enrollment steady at approximately 409,000 students. Charter schools now educate 10% of all Chicago public school students.

What do Chicago parents understand that charter opponents don't?  First, they actually have made a choice to send their child to a charter school and have a personal, direct stake in the quality of the school.  Second, they understand that the charter model is designed to create schools that are directly responsive to local community needs and concerns.

"I am still puzzled why providing neighborhoods an additional public schooling option is controversial," noted Sylvia Ewing, the Deputy Director of INCS, "since no one is required to attend a charter school, and we have more than 11,000 students who are stuck on waiting lists.  They deserve an option."  Why the hesitation? The fact is public charter schools are more likely to send kids to college, have lower dropout rates, and frequently outperform schools in their neighborhood.

The Illinois Network of Charter Schools (INCS) is dedicated to improving the quality of public education by promoting and invigorating the charter school concept. The voice of the state's charter schools, INCS advocates for legislation to strengthen charter schools, educates the public about the value of charter schools, and supports the dissemination of best practices throughout the system.

Contacts: Jim Publicover

312-235-0798 x14

SOURCE Illinois Network of Charter Schools