Vallas: Chicago Teachers Union’s new attack on charter schools

Vallas: Chicago Teachers Union’s new attack on charter schools

Chicago Public Schools’ decision to significantly shorten the number of years charter schools are allowed to operate before their charters are up for renewal is the latest Chicago Teachers Union effort to destroy public school choice.

The Chicago Teachers Union’s assault on school choice is continuing by forcing charter schools to more frequently seek permission to keep operating.

Chicago Public Schools historically renews charter school programs for standard five-, seven- or even 10-year terms. CTU pressure is changing that.

Earlier this year, the Chicago Board of Education gave 22 charter schools shorter two- or three-year contracts for the first time. Last year, of 28 charter schools up for renewal, none received a five-year extension.

Limiting renewals to two or three years is CTU’s way of effectively wrecking charter schools in Chicago by creating instability.

A two-year contract will create much anxiety for both faculty and charter school families, not to mention force school staff to repeatedly devote time, energy and resources to the renewal process. It will also make it impossible for charters to raise money for capital improvements.

This goes against basic governing of public charter schools. If charters provide a quality education and manage their money responsibly, the school district should extend their contracts and continue to fund them.

But the CTU and its allies have been unrelenting in their campaign to not just contain and roll back the public charter school movement in Chicago, but to effectively destroy it.

CPS already caved to CTU’s demand that charter school numbers be capped, and any further student enrollment be frozen until June 2024. Chicago’s existing charter schools are also barred from using and converting any former public school buildings that were closed during Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration.

The CTU is so determined to block charters that the district has failed to even authorize the creation of alternative schools for students who have dropped out, been kicked out for behavior reasons, have returned from incarceration or are simply too old to return to the traditional neighborhood high school. The recent University of Illinois-Chicago Great Cities Institute report shows in 2021 over 92,000 Chicagoans ages 16-19 were jobless and 36,758 ages 20-24 were both out of school and jobless. This youth education and job problem may be fueling Chicago’s crime epidemic.

The CTU has reason to fear the charters: The most recent study shows charters pulling farther away from their traditional public-school competition in student performance.

Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes released its third report that tracks charter school outcomes over 15 years covering over 2 million charter students in 29 states. CREDO’s conclusions are unequivocal: “Charter schools produce superior student gains despite enrolling a more challenging student population.” Moreover, “Black and Hispanic students in charter schools advance more than their [traditional public school] peers by large margins in both math and reading.”

Equally compelling is research by the preeminent economist and social theorist Thomas Sowell with the release of his book, “Charter Schools and Their Enemies.” Sowell focused on more than 100 New York City schools where both charter and traditional public-school students shared the same building. Just 14% of those public-school classes had a majority of students proficient in reading; for math, the number was 10%. In the charter schools, children fared significantly better, with 65% of classes having a majority of students proficient in reading and 68% having a majority proficient in math.

Dissatisfaction with CTU-dominated public schools – as well as the impact of income disparities on school options – is why 98% of the 54,000 children attending Chicago’s charter schools are Black and Latino, and 86% are from low-income households. For poor Black and Latino families, public charter schools are the only alternative to their often failing and unsafe neighborhood schools as ZIP code and family income too often determine the quality of their children’s schools. Those numbers would likely be even bigger if the schools were not capped by number and enrollment.

It’s concerning that most of CPS’ charter schools are soon coming up for renewal and more may face a limited or shorter-term renewal.

While few charters are likely to be denied, the short renewal period will wreck most of the schools by creating the type of uncertainty that hurts enrollment. It will limit the ability to secure and retain staff and effective instruction. It will have a far more adverse impact than the cap on charter schools and enrollment or even the union’s attempts to unionize charter school teachers.

Chicago faces serious educational challenges today. In the absence of accountability, student performance remains abysmal. In the absence of quality school choices, enrollment has plummeted. The lack of continuity and consistency is worsening the already chronic teacher shortages. The systematic degrading of charter schools will only make things worse. The CTU doesn’t care. The public charters are a direct threat to their monopoly that must be neutralized and the limited renewal period for charters is their newest weapon.

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