School Choice & Charters

Chicago Eyes 16 New Schools

By Catherine Gewertz — November 15, 2005 1 min read

Chicago, which is pursuing a controversial plan to replace struggling schools with charter-like schools, has unveiled a new group of contenders vying to move from idea to reality under the program.

Sixteen proposals under the district’s Renaissance 2010 plan are to be considered by the school board this week. If approved, 13 schools would open next fall. Three would open in 2007.

Among the proposals are an all-boys high school designed to prepare a primarily black population for college, and a “virtual” elementary school in which students would do their work at home by computer.

Those 16 schools together would serve about 3,200 students. Another 5,000 students attend 22 new schools already opened under the program, known by local educators as “Ren Ten.”

The new proposals came in response to the second request for school designs that the district has made since the June 2004 unveiling of Renaissance 2010. The five-year program aims to replace 60 or more underattended or underperforming schools with more than 100 smaller, reconfigured schools operated under contract by the district or by outside groups.

All of the new schools will get more freedom from district regulations than regular Chicago schools, but the amount will depend on their model.

Hosanna Mahaley Johnson, who assumed the job of overseeing Renaissance 2010 in May, said she was gratified that the new round of schools would increase educational choice and quality in neighborhoods most in need.

But the project continues to draw fire from the local teachers’ union, largely because under both the charter and contract models, schools would have more freedom to hire uncertified or nonunionized teachers.

Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart contends that district Chief Executive Officer Arne Duncan is “talking out of both sides of his mouth” for backing such models, while simultaneously calling for more teachers certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards in the city.

Ms. Johnson countered that the district is committed to hiring “highly qualified” teachers for the schools.

“There are still standards,” she said. “People aren’t just being picked up off the street corners.”

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A version of this article appeared in the November 02, 2005 edition of Education Week

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