Monday, January 20, 2020
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Chicago board approves 7 of 17 charters

Following the advice of Chicago Public Schools staff, the Chicago Board of Education approved seven proposed charter schools Wednesday and denied 10 others, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

The approved schools and their locations are as follows:

  • Concept Schools, 5401 S Western Ave
  • Concept Schools, 8522 S Lafayette Ave
  • Intrinsic Schools, 4540 W Belmont Ave (will move to Northwest Side)
  • Noble Street Charters, 5321 W Grand Ave
  • Noble Street Charters, 17 S State St
  • Chicago Education Partnership, 400 N Leamington Ave (K-6), 415 N Laramie Ave (7-8)
  • Great Lakes Academy, location to be determined

Both supporters and opponents of charter schools showed up at the meeting. A report in the Chicago Tribune said several charter school opponents camped outside CPS headquarters at 125 S Clark Street during the frigid night before the meeting.

The strongest opposition to Chicago charter schools isn’t necessarily about the idea of charter schools or about the specific schools in the city. Rather, the most vocal objection seems to stem from the irony of opening any schools after the district’s decision last school year to close almost 50 traditional public schools. Wendy Katten wrote in Crain’s Chicago Business:

Chicago closed a record number of neighborhood schools this year with the message that the district faced a billion-dollar deficit and had 511,000 seats for only 403,000 students. Over and over we heard Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Mayor Rahm Emanuel say we must redirect scarce resources to existing schools to benefit students. The end of the 2013 school year resulted in 50 school closings and cut of roughly $100 million to traditional schools. For many students across the city, like my son, this led to the loss of all arts teachers funded by CPS, our reading specialist, …

The question she asks is, Why does the city need to create more seats for students when it already has an excess of almost 90,000 seats? It’s worth thinking about, but in an environment like Chicago, it’s not easy to promote or dismiss charter schools. They’re a mixed bag, and the new ones will mix it up even more. No doubt some will serve students well and others will turn into abysmal failures. The experiment continues.

A closer look at the approved charters

Concept Schools (website) is based in Des Plaines, Ill. According to the organization’s website, they operate a total of 30 schools, which are located in Chicago, Peoria, St Louis, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Michigan, and mostly in Ohio (Toledo, Columbus, Cleveland, Youngstown, and Dayton). The Chicago Math and Science Academy made the list of Honor Roll Schools from the Illinois State Board of Education in 2008, and two schools in Ohio, the HSA Columbus High School and the Horizon Cleveland High School were named national Blue Ribbon schools by the US Department of Education in 2008 and 2012, respectively. Their model focuses on education in the STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. CPS rejected two Concept charter schools last year, but those schools are now operating thanks to a reversal of CPS’s decision on appeal to the Illinois State Charter School Commission, an appointed committee that can overrule the rejection decision of a local board of education.

Intrinsic Schools has been operating for less than a year, so there’s no real data to base any commentary on. However, Melissa Zaikos, the founder and CEO of Intrinsic, points out the “technological game changer” that Intrinsic can offer students: Chromebooks will provide “personalized instruction,” she says, as well as the use of a computer program called “Think Circa.” Ms Zaikos is also a former officer with CPS, and she has recruited a stellar staff, which includes a PhD in physical chemistry from Michigan State University, and an MA in teaching students with disabilities from Teachers College, Columbia University, New York.

Noble Street Charter Schools (website) already operates several schools in Chicago, serving more than 9,000 students from more than 70 Chicago communities at 14 campuses. The charter operator’s website notes that 90 percent of the students who graduate from a Noble Street high school go to college, and 84 percent of them are first-generation college attendees. They provide teachers with autonomy to “innovate in the classroom.” And as a group, the Noble Street Charter Schools say they “rank as the top performing high schools in Chicago on ACT scores and academic gains.” However, the presentation of data—i.e., the absence of useful labeling of variables—reveals an intent to deceive the public on the part of the charter school. We call on the organization to clean up its act and provide honest, transparent information to the public that is not presented in a way that suggests deception. Critics of Noble Street’s methods say the schools use extreme discipline and demerits that do not nurture students to succeed.

The Chicago Education Partnership will build an elementary school on the West Side. The organization plans to partner with By The Hand Club For Kids, a “Christ-centered, after-school program,” the Sun-Times reported. “I am a member of New Galilee Missionary Baptist Church that is very much engaged and very much involved with the By The Hand organization,” the paper quoted US Rep Danny Davis, a Democrat representing Illinois’s Seventh District, as saying. Mr Davis once worked as a teacher. “I’m aware of their philosophy, their desire, and I know that faith is oftentimes an integral part of children’s desire for learning,” he said. The organization’s Facebook page, here, says nothing of being Christ-centered, noting only a brief mission statement: “To create a school that dramatically transforms the lives of K-8 students and prepares them for success in college and in life through the delivery of a rigorous and personalized academic program, a focus on holistic education, and the development of strong character.”

Finally, the Great Lakes Academy (website) has a board made up mainly of entrepreneurs, not educators, but the lead founder is Katherine Myers, who brings a BA from Duke University, an MA in elementary education from St John’s University, and a JD from the University of Chicago. Yes, she’s also a lawyer. The school’s location is yet to be determined, but it will serve students in first and second grades in the 2014-15 school year and expand to a K-8 school later. Other than that, not much is known at this time about the Great Lakes Academy.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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