The assault on school choice in Illinois
Thousands of Illinois students are trapped in failing schools. These schools fail at their most basic task: providing students with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in the future. Take a look at some statistics from a forthcoming Illinois Policy Institute special report on the state’s lowest-performing schools: 72 percent of students at...
Thousands of Illinois students are trapped in failing schools. These schools fail at their most basic task: providing students with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in the future.
Take a look at some statistics from a forthcoming Illinois Policy Institute special report on the state’s lowest-performing schools:
- 72 percent of students at Illinois’ lowest-performing elementary schools failed to meet standards in math. Fifty-three percent are one grade level behind, and 19 percent are two or more grade levels behind.
- 72 percent of third-graders at Illinois’ lowest-performing elementary schools failed to meet standards in reading. Third-grade students who are behind in reading are unable to distinguish between the main idea and supporting details of a story.
- More than one-third of students at Illinois’ lowest-performing high schools can only do middle-school math.
- Only 6 percent of students at Illinois’ lowest-performing high schools score well enough on the ACT to be considered college-ready. Students who are college-ready have at least a 50 percent chance of getting a “B” or a 75 percent chance of a getting “C” in freshman college classes in reading, writing, math and science.
Even given this startling data, legislators have taken recent steps to prevent new, innovative and quality schools from opening.
In fact, just yesterday a majority of members of the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee voted to bring two anti-charter school commission bills on the floor.
The first – House Bill 3754 – would abolish the State Charter School Commission, and instead puts the State Board of Education in charge of approving or denying charter school appeals from districts.
Why is there so much animosity toward the State Charter School Commission?
Some legislators believe that the commission is playing fast and loose with appeals, approving low-quality charter schools because they receive grants from pro-charter school foundations and can assess a 3 percent fee from every charter school they approve.
The facts, however, don’t back this up.
The State Charter School Commission has existed for a more than two years and has only approved two appeals. The other 26 charter applicants dropped their appeal because they realized they had a low likelihood of being approved.
Some legislators also believe that decisions about charter schools should be made by school boards or citizens at the local level rather than a commission in Springfield.
This is wrong-headed.
First, the report created by the Independent Charter Authorizer Task Force in 2010 – which recommended the creation of the commission – suggested that districts are antagonistic toward charter schools because they represent real competition. In fact, between 1996 and 2010, 148 charter school proposals were denied by districts – 96 in Chicago and 52 outside of the city.
Second, parents can vote with their feet – a referendum doesn’t need to be held. If enough parents decide that a charter school is not the right option for their child, the charter school will fail.
The fact of the matter is that a majority of parents want choice when it comes where their child goes to school.
According to a Chicago Tribune poll last year, 64 percent of Chicago parents think it should be easier for charters to expand in neighborhoods where there are currently charter waiting lists, and 68 percent say it should be easier for charters to move into neighborhoods with low-performing schools.
Chicagoans aren’t the only people who want school choice. Illinoisans who live outside city want it, too.
In fact, a recent We Ask America poll commissioned by the Illinois Policy Institute shows, on average, that a majority of people in districts with the lowest-performing schools want the option to send their child to a school of their choice.
Legislators should take a step back and think long and hard about the votes they are casting.
Voting for abolishment and/or over-regulation of the State Charter School Commission pretty much guarantees that no charter schools will be created outside of Chicago, and that the thousands of students stuck in the state’s lowest-performing schools – schools where more than three-quarters of elementary and high school students cannot read at grade level or do math at grade level – will have no place else to turn.
Do legislators really want to be in favor of that?