Editorial: Noble charter school offers Southwest Side children a choice

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Rendering of the proposed Noble Charter School for Chicago’s Southwest Side.

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Three months ago, we argued against the relocation of a Noble charter high school to the North Side for three key reasons — community leaders were almost unanimously against it, five quality and improving public schools already existed, and none of the schools were overcrowded.

Today, we support the establishment of a Noble charter high school on the Southwest Side, at 47th Street and California Avenue, precisely because the facts on those same three criteria now stack up entirely differently.

  • The community leadership is divided. While a number of aldermen, as well as Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, oppose the charter school, saying it would drain funding from neighborhood schools, others — most notably Ald. Ed Burke, his brother State Rep. Dan Burke, and state Sen. Antonio Munoz — support it.
  • Kelly High School, which would be just six blocks from the new charter school and feel the competitive heat most, cannot be said to be academically above average and improving. Parents frankly deserve an alternative for their children. Kelly’s overall CPS rating of “2+” puts it in the middle of the pack — not a bad school, but not a great one. It’s average ACT score in 2014 was 16.7, below the CPS average of 18. And while it’s five-year graduation rate was above the CPS average, its college enrollment rate was below the average.
  • The six high schools Noble would compete with are considered “over capacity” — overcrowded — by Chicago Public School standards. Kelly High is at 120 percent capacity, though the school’s principal, James Coughlin, says enrollment was once much higher and there is now room.

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At a time when CPS faces a $1.1 billion deficit, critics say, it is irresponsible to allow another charter school anywhere in the city. Every child who attends a charter instead of a neighborhood school takes CPS funds with him or her. And Kelly, like other neighborhood schools, has already suffered funding cuts.

But Chicago’s school funding struggles will not be resolved any time soon, and to put a complete freeze on the charter movement, denying thousands of families an alternative to often mediocre or subpar neighborhood schools, would be unfair. Middle-class families can send their children to private schools, or they can move to the suburbs for a better school there. Poorer families deserve a choice, too.

As it is, some 1,500 students on the Southwest Side already attend a Noble charter school, often traveling long distances to get there, Noble officials say. The new school would shorten their commute.

Charter schools are not a cure-all for what ails urban education. Charters are open to charges of subtle exclusivity, and only the better ones, such as Noble, convincingly outperform neighborhood schools. But judged on a case-by-case basis, they can be part of the solution.

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