Chicago has rightfully earned a reputation as one of the nation’s most thoughtful charter school authorizers, but Mayor Richard M. Daley’s high-profile push to expand on that foundation is fraught with challenges, a report from the Washington-based Progressive Policy Institute contends.
The report offers qualified praise for the mayor’s controversial Renaissance 2010 initiative, which seeks to replace low-performing schools over the next five years with 100 new small schools under a mix of governance arrangements, including charters.
“Chasing the Blues Away: Charter Schools Scale Up in Chicago” is available from the Progressive Policy Institute.
But successfully carrying out the plan will require reorienting the central office of the 430,000-student district, enlisting outside groups to incubate new schools, and setting up structures to secure affordable facilities, the report argues.
It will also take “the broader community to step up to the plate” to overcome what the report calls inevitable resistance within the school system.
“Chicago’s municipal, business, philanthropic, and civic communities have helped Chicago’s schools in the past, and they will be counted on again to create and sustain support for new schools,” it says.
The report is the eighth in a series on charter schooling commissioned, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, by the PPI’s 21st Century Schools Project, which supports the independently run but publicly financed schools.
The PPI is a think tank affiliated with the Washington-based Democratic Leadership Council.
Chicago’s approach to chartering holds broader lessons, the report says, at a time when such districts as Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Miami-Dade County, Fla., New York City, and Philadelphia are chartering sizable numbers of new schools.
Those lessons include Chicago’s record of putting solid student achievement “at the top of its hierarchy of goals for charters,” and setting up an office that advocates for chartering and establishes high standards and reliable authorizing procedures.
“All too often, school districts and states award charters simply to placate especially vocal community groups rather than for sound educational reasons,” says the report, which was co-written by Robin J. Lake, the executive director of the National Charter School Research Project at the University of Washington in Seattle, and Lydia Rainey, one of her research associates there. “Chicago, in contrast, sees charters as a vital part of its broader school reform effort and actively recruits the best possible people and groups to run them.”