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Guest Column: Charters 402: INCS corrects several misconceptions about charter schools

March 9, 2011

Editor’s note: The following guest column is in response to the March 2-8, 2011, guest column “Charter Schools 101,” provided by Tom McNamee.

By Andrew Broy
President, Illinois Network of Charter Schools

March 2, there was a guest column in The Rock River Times. Titled “Charter Schools 101,“ this piece by Tom McNamee is filled with factual errors and disinformation. A bulleted list of accusations against the charter sector ensued, and can by typified by sentences like “Charter schools are corporate, for-profit ventures,” which is simply not true. In fact, under Illinois law, all charter schools are required to be organized as nonprofits.

Since it is far too long for inclusion in this newspaper, a point-by-point response to Mr. McNamee’s piece can be found on the Illinois Network of Charter Schools’ website (www.incschools.org) in the Press & Media blog.

Mr. McNamee simply overlooks the following facts: Under Illinois law, charter schools are publicly funded, free public schools operated by nonprofit organizations. They are open to any student who wishes to apply. All students have a right to attend, unless there are too many applications for the space available, in which case a random lottery is held.

Unfortunately, there is a large funding disparity between charter schools and traditional neighborhood schools, yet charter schools, on average, continue to outperform comparison neighborhood schools in Illinois. While the data from Rockford is not yet in because the three charter schools are either in their first or second year of operation, early signs are promising.

Teachers at charter schools are not prevented from forming unions, nor are they subjected to regular work days of 11 hours with no outside time for professional development and lesson planning. Most telling, perhaps, is Mr. McNamee’s claim that only 17 percent of charter schools nationally outperform neighborhood schools. This same exact Stanford study found that Illinois charter schools achieve significantly better than their peer-matched schools, even if national samples produced mixed results.

Put simply, public charter schools in Illinois have, again and again, shown to be performing at an academic level above that of their district average. Though a majority of our charter school campuses are in Chicago, the downstate and suburban schools are also making marked academic gains.

This is not to say all charter schools are perfect, far from it. But the charter model works. And charter schools that did not serve their students well in the past—as measured by graduation rates, college attendance rates, standardized test scores, school culture, and academic rigor—were shut down, as they should have been.

Public charter schools play a vital role in the education reform landscape. One should not lose sight of the end goal of these broad reform issues: a better education for all Illinois students. Open debate is how ideas get vetted in our society, but we should at least get the facts right. Reasonable minds can differ on the efficacy of charter schools, but Illinois law is Illinois law. I look forward to the day when observers stop pitting public charter schools against other public schools. We have spent too much time on these sorts of one-sided debates, and we would be better served by focusing our energies on what is best for the families of Illinois.

The Illinois Network of Charter Schools (INCS) is dedicated to improving the quality of public education by promoting and invigorating the charter school concept. The voice of the state’s charter schools, INCS advocates for legislation to strengthen charter schools, educates the public about the value of charter schools, and supports the dissemination of best practices throughout the system.

From the March 9-15, 2011, issue

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