More than 21,000 students in Chicago Public Schools, or CPS, are being left behind. They are attending schools that fail to prepare them for life.

A majority of students attending the lowest 10 percent of elementary schools and high schools in Chicago don’t have basic competence in reading, science and math. They’re significantly behind their peers in almost every respect. And success in school is a direct link to success later in life with more steady employment, greater wages and higher self-confidence.

Seventy-five percent of students at the lowest-performing elementary schools failed to meet standards on state exams. More than 20 percent of these students scored in the lowest category in reading, meaning they have a difficult time determining the main idea of a persuasive essay or the plot of a short story.


Things are even worse at the city’s lowest-performing high schools. Half of the more than 5,000 students attending these schools scored in the lowest category on the state exam in math, meaning they can only do basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division problems.

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Students at these schools are also absent from school and drop out at much higher rates than the average CPS population. Thirty-eight percent of students at Chicago’s lowest-performing elementary schools are considered chronically truant. Chronically truant students are 10 to 30 percent more likely than their peers to fail at least one of the three subject matter tests embedded in the Illinois Standard Achievement Test, which measures whether a student is at grade-level.

Students at Chicago’s lowest-performing high schools drop out at nearly 12 times the rate of average Illinois students – 36 percent compared to 3 percent, respectively. According to the 2009 U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, adults age 25 and older who dropped out of high school or had not earned a GED earned up to 41 percent less than those who had.

All of these statistics add up. They coalesce to form a series of obstacles that, for many students, are simply too difficult to overcome.

Students at Chicago’s lowest-performing elementary schools and high schools need an escape route – fast. It is wrong to force them to continue attending schools that are set up for failure.

Politicians need to allow students attending these schools to take advantage of variety of educational options that students in other states already enjoy. This means lifting the charter school cap, creating an environment where online and blended learning can thrive, and supporting choice programs – such as vouchers, tax-credit scholarships and education savings accounts – that allow students in Chicago’s lowest performing-performing elementary schools and high schools to attend schools that better fit their learning styles and are more responsive to their needs.

Surely, most legislators and high-level education officials would not allow their children to attend the lowest-performing elementary schools and high schools in Chicago. Forcing other people to send their children to these schools is wrong, too.

It is time to take the power out of legislators’ hands and put it back into the hands of parents and students – where it should have been all along.

Doing anything less is immoral and unfair.

Legislators should allow families whose children attend the lowest-performing elementary schools and high schools in Chicago to take advantage of a variety of educational options.

There is no time to waste. Forcing students to attend schools that routinely fail them is wrong and can leave scars that last well into the future. They need immediate relief, not broken promises about how things will change for the better five or 10 years down the road.

Their lives depend on it.