Unsung Heroes: Charter Schools
By: Collin Hitt, Director of Education Policy
May 26, 2009
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Throughout Illinois, a new kind of public school has emerged: charter schools.†
The "charter school movement," as it has been called, has been a success in Illinois.† Studies have consistently shown that charter schools routinely perform above the norm at comparable district schools.† To date, however, most of these studies of school performance have focused on Chicago's charter schools.† A new report by the Illinois Policy Institute examines the performance of charter schools in suburban and downstate communities.
Outside of Chicago, the popularity of charter schools is growing quickly. There are currently 9 charter schools open in downstate Illinois and the suburbs of Chicago.† Three more have already been approved to open in Rockford over the next two years, and two additional charter applications have been filed with the Rockford school board.† Other Illinois communities are also showing interest, including Joliet and Waukegan.
The new Illinois Policy Institute report focuses on charter schools that enrolled K-12 students during the 2007-2008 school year.† These downstate and suburban charter schools outperformed the district averages in 72.1 percent of direct comparisons of academic performance.
- †In every instance, charter schools posted higher attendance rates and lower truancy rates than district schools.
- †In 4 of 7 comparisons, charter schools had a higher percentage of all students meeting/exceeding state† standards† on state tests. (In one instance, the overall performance of district schools and a charter school was identical).
- †In 4 of 6 comparisons, charter schools made stronger one-year gains on state tests.
A closer grade-by-grade, subject-by-subject analysis of performance showed charter schools were making strong headway. Overall, the grade-level test results at charter schools exceeded the district averages 72.0 percent of the time.
In a wide majority of comparisons, downstate and suburban charter schools outperformed the average at district schools in each subject tested: reading, math, science and writing.† And in two schools where the grade-level performance of economically disadvantaged students could be compared directly to district averages, charter students outperformed the district averages in 67.7 percent, or 21 of 31, direct comparisons.
The Bottom Line
The data are clear.† More often than not, charter schools in downstate and suburban Illinois are outperforming the average at district schools.† This is the case with low income students in particular.† Parents who are seeking schools with stronger academic records are likely to be happy with their choice of charter schools.† And, it appears, parents who choose schools for other reasons do not have to sacrifice academic quality to send their children to a charter school.
As more charter schools open throughout downstate Illinois and the suburbs of Chicago, one hopes they will match the success of existing charter schools.† After all, every community could use better schools, and as charter schools continue to flourish, they can spur all public schools to challenge the norm and improve how all of Illinois's children are educated.
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