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Chicago charter schools produce wildly uneven results on state tests

Michael Milkie Superintendent Noble Network Charter Schools looking over Raquel Ibarra's work while Principal Tressie McDonough looks over Yazmine Carbajal's

Michael Milkie Superintendent Noble Network of Charter Schools, looking over Raquel Ibarra's work, while Principal Tressie McDonough looks over Yazmine Carbajal's work in an AP Calculus class at the UIC College Prep High School 1231 S. Damen. Wednesday, November 23, 2011 | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 1, 2012 8:22AM



Chicago charter school franchises produced wildly uneven results — even among different campuses of the same chain — on state achievement test data released Wednesday for the first time in more than a decade.

Only one of nine Chicago multi-site charter operators — Noble Street — beat the districtwide average of all Chicago public schools for the percent of students passing state tests last spring on every campus it oversees.

The overall passing rate at two city charter franchises — Aspira and North Lawndale — was below the city average at every campus those two groups operate.

Four other chains — Betty Shabazz, Perspectives, North Lawndale and Chicago International — saw the majority of their campuses with over-all pass rates that were below the citywide average. In fact, one Shabazz high school campus — DuSable — had a passing rate that put it among the bottom 30 high schools in the entire state. One of its elementary campuses placed among the bottom 40.

And the passing rates of individual campuses within the same chain sometimes differed by nearly 20, 25, 30 or even as much as 37.5 percentages points on the same test, new state report card data showed. The least variation between campuses occurred at some of the worst-performing charters.

The findings, said David Berliner, education professor at Arizona State University, mean “parents need to be very, very careful in selecting charters because they do not replicate like McDonalds or the Holiday Inn. ... Expecting to find consistency like at a Holiday Inn or a McDonalds is not in the nature of large human interaction.’’

Michael Milkie, CEO of the standout Noble Street charter network, agreed that belonging to a charter franchise doesn’t ensure the same results across all campuses. The performance level of incoming students and the strength of principals and teachers may vary across a chain, he said. A new charter may need time to gain steam before it rises to the level of a mature one.

At least charters, which are freed from many rules governing traditional public schools, can move more quickly to replace principals and teachers who don’t produce, charter advocates say.

“You can’t go to every Lettuce Entertainment restaurant and assume they are equal just because of the name,’’ Milkie said. Even with charters, parents “still have to do their research. I think they realize that.’’

But up until Wednesday, parents—– and the media — were unable to see campus-by-campus state report card results of Chicago charter operators who were allowed multiple charter campuses — presumably because their first charter site was successful. For years, the State Board of Education only released the average score across all campuses, something that obscured the variations evident in Wednesday’s data.

“There’s this spin out there that charters are better, and we should expand them while closing neighborhood schools,’’ said Wendy Katten of the Chicago parent group Raise Your Hand. “There should be more rigorous examination of what’s going on in these schools before we expand them.’’

If tech-saavy parents drilled into a certain section of the Research and Evaluation website of Chicago Public Schools, they could find some campus-by-campus numbers, but even some of those results are different from the official numbers finally released Wednesday — nearly a month after state report cards for traditional public schools were released. CPS officials blamed the numerical differences on the fact that the district and the state calculate some numbers differently.

And state officials still have yet to share campus-by-campus results for Chicago’s Youth Connections Charter network — a chain of alternative schools for dropouts whose average passing rate places it among the bottom 50 high schools in the state. Although Youth Connections’ executive director Sheila Venson said YCC operates 23 sites, each managed by a different group, State Board of Education spokeswoman Mary Fergus said the Chicago Public Schools “considers it one school,’’ so, thus far, no campus-by-campus figures have been produced.

“That may change in the future,’’ Fergus said. “This is the first year we’ve developed and released campus-by-campus data and it is a new and evolving process.’’

Rhonda Hopps, executive director of the Perspectives charter chain, said charters should be judged on test score gains more than overall test results. Longterm indicators, such as Perspectives’ graduation and college persistence rate, beat CPS averages and prove the Perspectives model is a success, Hopps said.

Raise Your Hands’ Katten said poorly performing Chicago charter campuses should be held to the same closure standards as traditional public schools — something Chicago Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard has vowed to do

“All people want is the truth and real information,’’ Katten said. “It’s great this information is now out there. Hopefully it can help parents make accurate decisions about where to send their child.’’

Some charter operators say they are aggressively doing their own closures and shakeups.

The city’s biggest charter franchise — Chicago International Charter Schools — has taken a unique approach to its 15 campuses, hiring four different companies to run them and firing two others over the last 14 years for failure to produce desired results. The companies dumped included one founded by former State Schools Supt. Michael Bakalis.

Over the last year alone, Chicago International moved in to change principals at three campuses that beat most surrounding schools but didn’t outpace city averages, said Beth Purvis,the franchise’s executive director. One principal was replaced just this week. Teachers have or will be given pink slips at the three campuses, she said.

Despite its varied operators, Purvis said, Chicago International has tried to establish a “CICS brand” of common themes across all sites — a college-prep curriculum, a disciplined environment, a dress code, regular tests to assess mastery and “the fact that if there are problems, we try to fix them before they become critical.’’

As a result, Purvis said, “There are a lot of things associated with CICS’ brand that parents like.’’

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Elementary Charter Campuses

Campus name % passing ISAT Difference from city avg. of % passing ISAT Percent low income Enrollment
ASPIRA Chrt - Haugan 70.1 -3.2 95.2 560
CICS - Avalon/So Shore 78.6 5.3 94.4 426
CICS - Bucktown 83.1 9.8 79.5 657
CICS - Hawkins 57.4 -15.9 91 431
CICS - Irving Park 92.5 19.2 67.7 499
CICS - Lloyd Bond 55 -18.3 97.1 349
CICS - Longwood 84.3 11 81.7 1,471
CICS - W. Belden 88.2 14.9 85.2 500
CICS- Basil 64.7 -8.6 94 721
CICS- Prairie 69.1 -4.2 96.8 404
CICS- Washington Park 64.3 -9 95.6 434
CICS- Wrightwood 78.3 5 86.9 720
LEARN Chrt - Butler 85.7 12.4 93.6 579
LEARN Chrt - EXCEL 76.6 3.3 92.9 295
LEARN Chrt - North Lawndale 74.8 1.5 97.9 328
LEARN Chrt - South Shore 60.7 -12.6 95.6 159
Perspectives Chrt - Joslin 79.2 5.9 85.2 365
Perspectives Chrt - Calumet MS 72.7 -0.6 92.2 384
Perspectives Chrt - IIT Math/Scie 76 2.7 81.8 501
Shabazz Charter 75.6 2.3 85.9 320
Shabazz Chrt - Sizemore 50.9 -22.4 91.5 284
U Of C Chrt - Donoghue 72.4 -0.9 81.9 431
U Of C Chrt - North Kenwood 83.6 10.3 80.4 337
U Of C Chrt - Woodlawn 75.2 1.9 83.2 537
U of C Chrt - Woodson 77.1 3.8 81.8 402
UNO Charter - Gage Park 69.5 -3.8 95.5 550
UNO Charter - Marquez 80.8 7.5 96 576
UNO Chrt - Fuentes 78.4 5.1 84.7 557
UNO Chrt - Las Casas 72.7 -0.6 94.1 286
UNO Chrt - Paz Campus 58.3 -15 98.9 437
UNO Chrt - PFC Torres 80.1 6.8 93.9 640
UNO Chrt - SPC Zizumbo 79.3 6 89.8 639
UNO Chrt - Tamayo 76 2.7 96.5 287


High School Charter Campuses

Campus name % passing PSAE Difference from city avg. of % passing PSAE Graduation rate Percent low income Enrollment
ASPIRA Chrt - Early College 19 -9.3 85.7 75.9 523
ASPIRA Chrt - Ramirez 14.9 -13.4 77.4 95.6 408
CICS - Ellison 13.2 -15.1 93.1 81.3 545
CICS - Hawkins 8.9 -19.4 91 431
CICS - Longwood 17.8 -10.5 91 81.7 1,471
CICS - Northtown 38.7 10.4 94.4 78.3 817
Nobel St Chrt HS - Comer 45.9 17.6 86.1 518
Nobel St ChrtHS - UIC College Pre 59.5 31.2 81.5 594
Noble St Chrt HS - Clark 39.6 11.3 77.6 92.6 538
Noble St Chrt HS - Golder 50.6 22.3 90.6 90.1 545
Noble St Chrt HS - Pritzker 55.8 27.5 94.6 94 680
Noble St Chrt HS - Rauner 46.3 18 76.4 85.5 587
Noble St Chrt Hs -College Prep 51.4 23.1 91.3 91.7 593
North Lawndale Chrt - Collins 15 -13.3 97.1 91.6 419
North Lawndale Chrt -Christiana 17.5 -10.8 96 93.9 462
Perspectives Chrt - Joslin 25.7 -2.6 93.2 85.2 365
Perspectives Chrt - Cal Tech HS 18.3 -10 84.5 88.1 512
Perspectives Chrt - Calumet HS 10.1 -18.2 89.8 93.4 488
Perspectives Chrt - IIT Math/Scie 30 1.7 81.8 501
Shabazz Chrt - DuSable 7.4 -20.9 89.7 93.9 407
U Of C Chrt - Woodlawn 18.5 -9.8 89.4 83.2 537
UNO Charter - Major Garcia 37 8.7 95.7 438


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