Chicago charter schools do no better than unionized public schools

The Georgia “charter school” amendment isn’t really about charter schools (which any school district in Georgia can already approve, and many have): it’s about giving an unelected committee in Atlanta power to force us to pay extra local taxes to fund charter schools we don’t want. However, since the pushers of that amendment say it’s about charter schools, it’s worth reviewing that charter schools actually on average perform no better or even worse than traditional public schools. Let’s look at what the pushers hate most, unionized public schools in Chicago. and then let’s look at Georgia’s non-unionized public schools.

Ben Joravsky wrote for 3 October 2012, Today’s lesson: charters do not outperform unionized schools: Confronting the anti-teachers’ union myth with, you know, facts

But as I was saying, the foes of the teachers’ union declare that we should pay close attention to the all-important standardized test scores. So let’s take a look.

Chicago Public Schools There are 541 elementary schools in Chicago. Based on the composite ISAT scores for 2011—the last full set available—none of the top ten are charters. None of the top 20, 30, or 40 either.

In fact, you’ve got to go to 41 to find a charter. Take a bow, CICS Irving Park!

Most of the 49 charters on the list are clustered near the great middle, alongside most of their unionized neighborhood schools.

The top scorers are public schools with unionized teachers who are members of the Chicago Teachers Union.

UNO is a charter school operator. Joravsky compares one of its schools side-by-side with a unionized public school.

The highest ranking UNO campus, Marquez, came in at 99. UNO’s Fuentes School Fuentes campus—the one the Tribune highlighted—ranks 128. That’s two positions behind Linne, the unionized public school in the neighborhood. I hope it’s not too late for the Tribune to rewrite that editorial.

For the record, Linne’s student body consists largely of low-income Hispanic kids, as does Fuentes’s. I mention that because charter supporters usually whine that it’s unfair to compare them with higher-scoring schools whose students come from wealthier families. Which is the exact argument they disdain when public school backers use it. “The soft bigotry of low expectations,” as the aforementioned President Bush put it.

Linne School When they’re calculating their rankings, the charter backers like to rule out comparisons with unionized middle-class neighborhood schools, magnet schools, selective enrollment schools, baccalaureate schools, and schools that don’t serve fish sticks for lunch. By the time they’re finished playing with the test scores, they somehow manage to have the charters ranked near the top. Using this logic, I am the world’s greatest basketball player.

And this is despite a big advantage charter schools do have:

What the charter backers don’t say is that their schools actually have a big advantage over their regular neighborhood counterparts because the charters limit enrollment to students whose parents apply. They don’t have to take in every John, Paul, George, and Ringo who shows up at the front door.

This advantage was a central point in a recent New York Times article in which one north side parent said she’d enrolled her son in a charter because he wasn’t being “challenged” in the local neighborhood school, where teachers had to spend “too much time disciplining troubled students.”

At the charter school, “you have a different group because of what we have to go through to get our children into a charter school,” the parent told the Times. “You have more involved parents here.”

Vote No on Amendment 1 So why doesn’t that charter school next to the unionized public school perform better? Maybe being a charter school isn’t magic?

Besides, local school boards already can, and often do, authorize charter schools in Georgia. We don’t need an unelected board in Atlanta to force charters on us while sucking up our local taxes. Vote No on the charter school amendment in November.