Making the Choice: Charter vs. Traditional Public Schools

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Here Are the Resources You Need to Make the Right Choice for Your Family

For decades, Black families in Chicago’s  inner city have searched for the best option regarding the education of their children. With the closures of numerous inner-city traditional public schools (TPS), the growing number of charter schools and the dwindling funding of inner-city private schools, parents are constantly discussing educational choice.The Chicago Defender reached out to Kids First Chicago – an organization with a mission to provide information and skills on how to navigate and understand the Chicago Public Schools to help parents choose the best option for their family – for how best to define each school type. Then, we added our own pros and cons.

Traditional Public Schools

Kids First Chicago Description:
Every child in Chicago has a traditional neighborhood elementary school and high school. Each of these schools has an attendance boundary. If you live inside that boundary, you can attend that school without submitting an application. If there is a neighborhood school that you like, but you do not live in its attendance boundary, you can apply and students will be randomly accepted through a lottery system.
High school applications are available at each school. Principals determine application requirements, and admissions criteria are variable by school and admissions decisions.


•Little to no cost of public education tuition.
•Strict higher educational standards for educators.  Educators have to acquire both a bachelor’s degree as well as a state certification to teach, which means that teachers are at least educationally qualified for the job.
•Achievement is on the rise as Chicago’s public schools’ graduation rate increased 3.6 percent between ‘14-‘15 and ‘15-’16.

African-American thought leader:

The NAACP recently called for a moratorium on charter schools.  “We are moving forward to require that charter schools receive the same level of oversight, civil rights protections and provide the same level of transparency, and we require the same of traditional public schools,” Chairman Roslyn Brock said in a statement. “Our decision is driven by a long-held principle and policy of the NAACP that high-quality, free, public education should be afforded to all children.”


•Traditional public schools have had a history of poor performance in poor minority neighborhoods across the nation, and Chicago is no exception.
•Black students enrolled in Chicago Public Schools are twice as likely to be suspended compared to Latino students and over five times as likely compared to white CPS students, according to a study by the University of Chicago’s Consortium.

African-American thought leader:

Steve Perry, author, speaker and founder of three charter schools, pointed out on Roland Martin’s TV One special  Is School Choice a Black Choice,  that “It’s not just a school-to-prison pipeline, it’s a school-to-prison superhighway. If you look very quickly, you’ll see that our children are some 12 percent of the population in many of the school systems, yet we make up 40 percent of the children who are expelled. Our children are three and a half times as likely to be suspended. They make up 70 percent of those arrested in the schools. Only 68 percent of them, in many states, will ever graduate.”


Charter Schools

Kids First Chicago Description:
Charter schools are public schools open to all Chicago children. Each charter school has its own curriculum, schedule, calendar and admissions process that may be different from other public schools. There are no attendance boundaries, so students from all around the city can apply.
Each school has its own application, and acceptance is through a random lottery if there are more applications than seats. If there are more seats than applications to a school, all applicants will be accepted.


•Charter schools are on a constant rise in Chicago, with the recent closings of traditional CPS schools, and the battle over the education budget. Charter schools have managed to continue opening and growing throughout the inner city.

•Two Chicago standouts are Young Women’s Leadership Charter High School and Urban Prep Academies that boast a 100 percent graduation and college acceptance rate with a majority Black student enrollment.
•Charter schools also have smaller class sizes that compete with private schools’ claim to individual attention.

African-American Thought Leader

“Charters go where the need is, like any good
market fix, and right now the need is largely in our urban and low-income and poverty-stricken communities that happen to be largely minority-populated communities. It’s nearly impossible to shut down a failing public school, but if a charter school does not meet its benchmarks it will be closed. A restaurant shouldn’t be able to stay open if it’s poisoning its customers and, unfortunately, in too many areas of public education in this country our children are being poisoned and the NAACP is here to make sure that they drink their Kool-Aid anyway,” said Kira Davis, blogger, writer and school choice activist, in a Choice Media YouTube video called “School Choice Leaders Respond to the NAACP.”


•Although parents of charter school students show high rates of satisfaction with their institutions, there is no significant difference in education quality between charter and traditional public schools. In fact, in the University of Minnesota Law School’s 2014 report  Charter Schools in Chicago: No Model for Education Reform,  “Charters tend to show slightly lower average student performance when compared to all non-charters and slightly higher indicators when compared to neighborhood schools alone (removing selective, gifted and magnets from the non-charter averages). Charters also compare poorly to magnet schools.”

•The NAACP voted to request a moratorium be placed on the opening of new charter schools in the U.S.

African-American Thought Leader:

Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP Washington bureau and senior vice president for advocacy and policy, said at  Is School Choice a Black Choice?  “moratorium means we have to stop for a minute. They recognized that over the last 15 years, we’ve seen a growth in charter schools that is somewhere between 300 to 700 per year. The bottom line for the NAACP is we want high-quality education for all of our children.”

What About Private Schools?

In 2016, Education Next surveyed 40,000 identified parents of traditional public schools, charter schools, or private schools (see Figure 1). This survey of public opinion found that parents of private school students were overwhelmingly more satisfied with their child’s institution compared to TPS parents. Leading in every category, private schools seem to be the most ideal choice for parents, but tuition cost often excludes these institutions as a realistic option for many inner-city parents.


•Private schools seem to make parents more confident in the safety of their children in violent areas of Chicago. Though lacking metal detectors and a large security presence, private schools seem to be among the safest, according to parental opinion.
•An NCES study report says, “When student covariates are included in the model, all private schools, as well as Catholic and Lutheran schools, maintain a higher average school mean than public schools.”
•Private schools have been known to continue the incorporation of arts programs in a STEM-driven educational system.

Parent Opinion:

“I think it was safer, I think the teachers cared more. . . . I think it made her a better person” says Mary Lathan, mother of a Chicago Archdiocese graduate.


•Traditionally, private schools are seen as a luxury reserved for the wealthy or well off because of the high cost of attendance, which typically removes these institutions from the list of educational options.
•Parents also say that private schools are overtly strict and discourage individuality with their uniform and appearance guidelines.
•The majority of private schools have religious affiliations, which has fueled the debate about whether federal dollars can be used to fund the education of students using vouchers.

Statement from NAACP on Vouchers:

“Department of Education studies have concluded that the voucher program has had no effect on the academic achievement of students who use vouchers. Federal studies have also demonstrated an alarming number of accountability shortcomings in the program. Examples include federal taxpayer dollars funding tuition at private schools that do not even charge tuition, schools that lacked city occupancy permits, and schools
employing teachers without bachelor’s degrees or certifications.”

Bottom Line

Should a potentially better education choice be denied to taxpaying citizens because of financial shortcomings? Some states say no. Arizona, Colorado, Washington D.C., Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Ohio, Oklahoma, Utah, Vermont, and Wisconsin all have school voucher programs in place that allow low-income parents to receive state funds allotted for the education of a child to be transferred to the institution of their choice.
These programs allow Black parents the right to true educational choice whether traditional, charter or private. It seems odd that students are allowed to take federal funds for private colleges and universities. Federal funding is used in health care, as well as public defenders that are privately employed; yet, the same funding option has not been made available for primary education nationally.
The main argument against school vouchers is the possible violation of separation of church and state. Education choice supporters feel that parental choice of the best educational options trumps religious restrictions.
Each parent holds different values and standards for the education of their children. If the government is going to collect taxpayer dollars for public community education, one could argue that those same funds should follow any given child no matter the parental decision of school type. Whether federal funds should be allocated for private or charter education is a constant debate that shows no signs of quieting down. There is no doubt that U.S. children need some form of educational choice to provide the best education for each individual student. Black parents want to know, when will the choice be theirs?
KayCee Shakur is the founder of Bomani Now ( She earned a BA in political science from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Facebook and Twitter: @BomaniNow
Kids First Chicago ( is an organization that believes all children have a right to a high-quality education within their community regardless of race, background, or income.Their mission is to provide parents and families with the information and skills to access high-quality schools and to shape education policy to better serve their children.

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