|Putting Children First||
Editorial: chicagotribune.com, April 4, 2013
The thirst for charter schools
Charter schools attract excellent young teachers and offer them wide latitude to reach students. The schools pour money into the classroom, not into bureaucracy. Many charters generate impressive results where it matters most: in student performance.
Is there demand? You bet. Statewide enrollment in charter schools has surged from 6,152 students in 2000 to 54,054 this school year — with most of them in Chicago — according to the Illinois State Board of Education. The first charter school in Illinois opened in 1996. Now there are 132 campuses operating under 58 charters.
Illinois has seen that growth even though state law limits how many charter schools can operate here.
There are still not enough top-quality charters to meet demand. That's why there is powerful and widespread support — among parents of CPS students and among other Chicagoans — for more charter schools in Chicago.
A recent Joyce Foundation-Chicago Tribune poll of 1,010 Chicagoans found that 63.7 percent favored making it easier for charters to expand in neighborhoods where there are waits for admission to charter schools, and 67.9 percent said it should be easier for charters to open in neighborhoods with underperforming schools.
This page and other charter supporters have cited one other piece of evidence of demand: an estimate that 19,000 Chicago students are waiting to enroll in a charter school.
That figure has come under challenge.
In a Tribune oped last week, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said the argument for more charters is "based on an unsubstantiated, discredited 'waiting list' of 19,000 students."
A report by WBEZ-FM this week said the estimate "significantly overstates demand" because it "counts applications, not students, meaning if a student applies to four schools, he or she is counted four times. It includes kids who have turned down charter seats and are now enrolled in other schools."
The estimate of 19,000 students waiting for a charter school slot comes from Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, a charter advocacy group. The figure is largely based on State Board of Education data on the number of student applications for charters and the number of charter seats available in the 2010-11 school year. The difference between those numbers is an "estimate ... of students who were seeking slots at a charter school who were not served in that school year," Broy says.
He acknowledges that the calculation does not account for how many students file applications to more than one charter school. That would lower the number of students waiting for a charter school.
But the calculation also does not include statistics from several Chicago charter schools that have opened or expanded since the last state assessment was completed. It does not include several charter schools that did not report figures for the 2010-11 school year. It does not include applications that came in after the end of the spring lottery period, in which students are either admitted or wait-listed for the next school year. Those factors would raise the number of students waiting for a charter school.
Broy stands by his calculation. "We feel the 19,000 number is strongly supported and is likely a conservative estimate," he says.
It is an estimate, made in good faith, and open to question and challenge.
Does anyone question the astonishing growth in charter school enrollment in Chicago, in Illinois, in other states? Take a look at the yearly ramp-up in Illinois, according to the chart with this editorial. Some 2.3 million students are attending charters nationally in this school year, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
Demand for great charters — for more and better choices across the public school system — shows no signs of flagging. That's why the Chicago Public Schools system continues to authorize more charters. And why we strongly encourage that growth. No child should have to wait for the opportunity.
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