CPS outpaces charter schools in improvements, especially in reading

Written By By Art Golab, Becky Schlikerman and Lauren FitzPatrick Staff Reporters Posted: 10/01/2014, 06:19am
Array CICS Avalon student Raven Robinson participates in a class discussion on Thursday, August 28, 2014, in Chicago. | Chandler West/For Sun-Times Media

Chicago’s public neighborhood elementary schools improved greatly in reading and slightly in math, outpacing average charter school growth last year, according to a Chicago Sun-Times analysis of recently released testing data.

Though neighborhood schools scored just a hair higher than charters in 2014 scores — landing in the 49th percentile nationally for reading and math compared with the 48th for charters — Chicago Public Schools’ open-enrollment schools made much better progress than charters in reading over 2013, according to the analysis of the Northwest Evaluation Association Measures of Academic Progress test data.

CPS schools, on average, scored better than 75 percent of all schools nationwide in reading growth.

By contrast, reading growth was about 27 percentile points lower, meaning charters scored better than 48.2 percent of all schools nationwide, among charter schools with available testing data.

In math, the growth gap was much smaller, as neighborhood schools squeaked past charter schools — in the 54.9th percentile versus the 49.5th percentile, according to the analysis, which weighted the scores according to the number of kids who took the test.

Fifty-nine charter schools reported results, but Chicago International Charter School’s Loomis, Alain Locke Charter Elementary Academy, Global Citizenship and Namaste and the LEARN schools were not included in the data CPS provided.

Troy LaRaviere, a Lake View principal who has been critical of charters, said the similar attainment scores could result from charter schools starting with students who are more motivated.

“They’re just getting students that perform at a higher level, but they’re doing far less with them in terms of fostering growth in the students they get,” LaRaviere said.

Even though CPS shuttered a record 50 neighborhood schools in June 2013, the district continues to open new charter schools, to the chagrin of many activists and thousands of school community members.

Some neighborhoods welcome them. Five new charters opened for the 2014-15 school year; 15 the year before. CPS has historically closed few charter schools, but it did order two closed for poor performance in January 2013 and put five more on an academic watch list.

Asked why CPS keeps opening charters when neighborhood schools show higher growth, CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey said many kinds of CPS schools have improved.

“These improvements are now our baseline standards,” he said, “and we will consider this data and other factors as guides when deciding future policies and investments.”

Reading targeted

The Sun-Times examined several categories of schools, separating selective enrollment and magnet schools from open-enrollment neighborhood public schools, as well as turnaround schools, which are privately managed.

Selective-enrollment schools clearly outpaced 98 percent of schools nationwide in reading growth and 82 percent for math growth, since they admit top students. Magnet schools, which use a lottery, were in the 83rd percentile for reading growth and 67th for math growth.

Reading success at neighborhood schools came as no surprise to CPS, said John Barker, who oversees district testing.

He said CPS had “a very strong commitment and professional development effort” in reading at district-managed schools. “It’s been less so in math.”

Joplin Elementary School Principal Alene Mason said she targeted reading, with tons of training for her reading teachers.

Instructional reading coaches worked at Joplin weekly, planning with teachers and even co-teaching with them, she said. Joplin’s scores bore that out: The school, in Chicago’s Gresham community, is in the 62nd percentile for reading growth, but only the 9th for math.

Math scores “grew but they didn’t grow enough,” Mason said.

“Math teachers did not get as much professional development as my reading teachers,” she said of her school. “In reading, we really pushed heavily and had all the supports there and it worked.”

Claudia Zamora, a Hanson Park Elementary School mom, said she’s pleased her son’s Belmont-Cragin school did so well, ranking in the 99th growth percentile for reading and 90th for math. But she thinks if the school’s overcrowding issues were addressed, 12-year-old Aaron could do even better.

“Here he is trying his very best,” she said, “and there’s a circus around him.”

Andrew Broy, who heads the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, cautioned that a few of the publicly funded but privately run charters he considers high-performing were not included in the results.

For charters truly at the bottom, Broy said, “the remedy should be closing the school.”

Austin community activist Dwayne Truss said neighborhood schools are burdened by negative stereotypes.

“There’s heavy marketing that somehow neighborhood schools are a horrible place and charter schools are better,” Truss said, adding, “we don’t have that advocacy in the political arena to say, ‘Hey, Mr. Mayor, we need to look at these numbers.’ ”

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