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The Answer Sheet

Another Study Shows Charters Do No Better Than Public Schools

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel waves during the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Chicago on March 15, 2014. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

An examination of every score that Chicago students earned on state-mandated standardized tests last year reveals that charter schools — which Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) has been promoting — don’t perform any better than traditional public schools.

The analysis, conducted by the Chicago Sun-Times and the Medill Data Project at Northwestern University, reviewed the 2013 scores of nearly 173,000 students in the traditional school district as well as more than 23,000 students in charter schools and a very small group enrolled at contract schools.  (Contract schools are run by private organizations under a contract with the Chicago Public Schools system, while charter schools are considered public schools that are run by private entities under a contract with a school district.)

The results are especially interesting in light of the big push Emanuel has made to increase the number of charter schools in the city even after he closed nearly 50 traditional schools last year in the largest mass school closing in U.S. history. Today there are more than 130 charters in Chicago and more are scheduled to open this year, and nearly one of every seven Chicago public school students attends charters or other schools run by private entities, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Here are some of the findings from the analysis, from this story in the Sun-Times:

 * On the math portion of the Illinois Standards Achievement Test, 7.3 percent of CPS neighborhood school students exceeded standards, while 5.3 percent of kids at the privately run schools did so.

* Among charter or contract elementary students, 7.9 percent exceeded standards on the ISAT [Illinois Standard Achievement Test] for reading, compared with 9.8 percent of students at neighborhood schools. The ISAT in math and reading is given to third- through eighth-graders.

* Charters and contract schools edged out neighborhood high schools — 1.3 percent to 0.7 percent — when it came to exceeding standards on the math portion of the PSAE [Prairie State Achievement Exam] last year.

* Students at CPS’ selective-enrollment, classical, magnet and other schools with admissions tests or specialized offerings posted far better results than those at both charter and neighborhood schools.

Will these results give pause to efforts to promote charter schools in Chicago? Don’t hold your breath. The charter movement has big money behind it among hedge fund managers on Wall Street (who recently bankrolled to the tune of millions of dollars an ad campaign to attack New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) for a stand he took on charter schools that supporters didn’t like).  And it’s folks with the big money who are helping to drive education policy these days.

Valerie Strauss

Valerie Strauss writes the Answer Sheet blog for the Washington Post.

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