Will charter schools emerge the winners in Chicago?

Not all Chicago public school students get to spend this week communing with their video games.  As Bloomberg reports,

For the 52,000 who attend public charter schools, it will be business as usual — and business is pretty good. Chicago has roughly 100 charters. Such schools are publicly funded but usually non-union and mostly autonomous in terms of curriculum and finances. Chicago plans to create 60 more within five years. The windy city ranks behind only New York City in the Brookings Institution‘s most recent Education Choice and Competition Index.


The article goes on to note,

Academic success, as with most charter programs, has been mixed. A 2009 Rand Corporation study found that students who attended Chicago’s “multi-grade” charters (including middle- and high-school grades) were more likely to graduate and go to college than their peers. In a September 2011 study of ACT results by the Illinois Policy Institute, 14 of the top 25 performing open-enrollment high schools, and 9 of the top 10, were charters.

But  the Chicago teachers union is fighting more about evaluations than pay (as one of the commentators on this blog noted, a 4% a year raise, from salaries in the $75,000 range, would sound mighty good to Utah teachers). Here the contrast with charters is potentially stark. As the Bloomberg piece concludes:

The charter schools are at the heart of the Chicago strike. For the union, a big sticking point has been the school board’s insistence that teacher assessments be used for merit pay and to make it easier to fire bad teachers. (This summer the city had to return a $35 million federal teacher-incentive grant because union officials wouldn’t agree on an evaluation system.)

Rewarding good teachers with financial bonuses and increased freedom in the classroom is a central tenet of the charter movement. It’s a concept that will likely have new appeal to Chicago parents missing work today and sitting at home with idle children.


    • Mary McConnell

      While I’m basically a charter school supporter, I’ve tried to post articles that indicate their failures as well as their successes. (Indeed, I’ve argued that one advantage of charters is that they’re allowed to fail.)

      What was interesting about the Bloomberg article was that it drew attention to what strikes me as a pretty likely consequence of the teacher’s strike: Charters are going to look better to at least some parents. I’m sure that the union thought about this possible consequence, and others, and decided that the strike was worth the risk. We can all stay tuned.

  1. Steve Edwards


    Is there any possible way you and other bloggers could contribute changing the divisive discourse between charter schools and traditional public schools? There are good and bad in both of these models of education. It is time to acknowledge the limitations of charter schools as there have certainly been enough commentary to the limitations of traditional public schools.
    If one is to be objective and put the needs of both our children and our teachers first, then collaboration and positive discourse is critical. I appreciate the piece in your blog referencing the reality of successes and failures of the charter system.
    Now, we must begin to have a serious dialogue about what is happening to the second most important group in the system; our teachers. Our traditional public school teachers across this country have been at the forefront of research-based reforms. They deserve to be listened to and respected for the enormity of the job they are asked to do with the limited resources every single day.
    I challenge all of us in the education community to stop the blame game, the unfair comparisons, and the anti-teacher and anti-union rhetoric. It does nothing to move our public education system and charter schools in a positive direction.
    It begins with ALL of us.

    • Jeffery Hosten


      I’m all in favor of positive discourse. I’m all in favor of less divisiveness. The reality is, however, that the education sector has been without accountability for a long time by all objective standards. And there is much to be gained–not nothing, as you suggest–by challenging the status quo.

      I think your aims are quite laudable. I just think that the focus should be on solutions instead of treading carefully in order not to offend. The only way we can have this conversation is by worrying about helping students. As it turns out, I think that helping students will help teachers, but the goal is the former, not the latter.

      • Mary McConnell

        This is going to sound like an odd comment, but I wonder if “solidarity” isn’t part of the problem. In my experience, teachers know which colleagues in their school have essentially retired on the job, or failed to maintain control of their classrooms, or chosen to devote the bare minimum time and effort to class preparation. We’d probably do the best job of identifying teachers who need to switch careers, and helping teachers who want to improve but need guidance. I also think that more stringent evaluations and streamlined dismissal policies would actually garner more of the “respect” that teachers crave . . . and that teachers are much more likely to be happy with reforms if they help design and implement them. Again, I keep going back to the Montgomery County example, where a teacher-led evaluation system seems to have improved performance AND dramatically increased the number of teachers who lose their jobs.

        An all for one and one for all approach, however, is going to stymie any such efforts.

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