Chicago Public Schools officials say they plan to get tough with privately run charter schools that are failing academically this year and could shut down those that aren’t making the grade.
CPS is accused by the teachers union and others of failing to invest in those schools even as the number of charter schools grows, and by threatening to close charters the district sends a message aimed at quieting those critics.
The district’s contracts with networks that run 32 charter schools are up for renewal this year. At least seven of those schools are rated by the district at “Level 3,” the lowest standard for academic performance.
Charter schools have been promoted by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and reform advocates as one way to turn around the troubled system, but state data show many are performing no better than traditional neighborhood schools and some are doing much worse.
In the 2011-12 school year, more than two dozen charter schools scored below district averages on key state assessment tests.
“Charters, like neighborhood schools, are public schools that receive taxpayer dollars and must be held accountable for results just as any other in our district,” schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said in a statement.
The district’s options include renewing a charter network’s contract, but on a shorter term, or terminating the contract altogether.
In the coming weeks, CPS officials plan to meet with community groups and residents to develop a list of neighborhood schools that will be closed. That list will be released in March, if CPS is granted an extension by state legislators.
The district has for several years targeted neighborhood schools for closing based on low performance or underenrollment. But the district has not previously closed charter schools. On Wednesday, charter advocates said they agreed with the district’s efforts to close failing charters but said the district needs to look beyond state test scores.
“I want to caution that (CPS shouldn’t) just look at absolute performance of schools, but that they also look at growth,” said Phyllis Lockett, president of New Schools for Chicago, which has helped fund many charter school startups. “Most of our kids are coming in three or four grades behind. And I hope that they also consider graduation and college enrollment rates.”
One of the charter networks under scrutiny figures to be Shabazz International, which oversees two elementary schools rated at Level 3. Also, less than 6 percent of students attending the network’s DuSable Leadership high school met state standards on the Prairie State Achievement Examination.
Shabazz International CEO David Ireland pointed to an improvement in scores at one of the elementary schools and noted that DuSable placed all of its seniors in college last year.
“We recognize we have struggled in the past, but we do believe we’re moving the ball forward,” Ireland said.
Juan Rangel, CEO of the politically connected United Neighborhood Organization, which runs a charter network, said he’s confident that two underperforming UNO schools can be improved.
“I have no concern,” he said. “I feel very confident all UNO schools will be renewed.”
CPS board member Henry Bienen this week acknowledged the difficulty of closing failing neighborhood schools at a time when charter schools will be added. CPS expects to grow charter schools by an additional 60 in the next five years.
At Wednesday’s school board meeting, Bienen told parents that CPS is opening more charters because there’s a waiting list of students trying to get into existing ones.
Opponents of neighborhood school closings have staged two fiery rallies in the past two weeks, one of which specifically targeted board member Penny Pritzker. School board President David Vitale on Wednesday strongly criticized heated rhetoric from Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey, who on Monday gave notice to the board “that if you close our schools, we’re coming after you.”
“This is not civil behavior,” Vitale said. “You shouldn’t be threatening people. You shouldn’t be lying about board members. And you shouldn’t be trying to intimidate.”
Sharkey said Vitale mischaracterized his comments.
“It’s not entirely unlike the snit he had last year when protests got hot about school closings,” Sharkey said. “We did not threaten board members personally, but in a very political way we let them know that we do not intend to sit idly by and intend to hold an appointed board accountable for its decision to close schools.”