There are 6,440 charter schools in the United States. Three of these schools are finalists this year for the nation’s most prestigious charter school award: the Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools. The Noble Network here in Chicago is among the finalists and will be recognized at the National Charter School Conference later this month in New Orleans.
Given this national recognition, the recent controversy over Noble locating a new campus on the North Side is bizarre.
Deciding whether to allow existing charter schools to expand should always be based on whether the school has a strong academic track record. On that point, there is little doubt. The Noble Network’s academic achievement on the ACT, academic gains during high school, and college enrollment rate place it among the very best high schools in the city. If this is a merit-based decision, there is no doubt Noble should be approved.
But the opposition isn’t based on merit. Instead, the opponents’ claim that allowing Noble to locate on the North Side would hurt existing schools. Such zero-sum thinking presents a false choice. History has proven that charter openings and overall academic increases are more the rule than the exception. Indeed, Chicago Math and Science Charter Academy has served students in Rogers Park and surrounding communities for more than 10 years, a period of time in which local neighboring high schools have also improved.
What is true for Chicago Math and Science Charter Academy is true for the city as a whole. Since charter expansion began in earnest in Chicago in 2004, the entire city’s performance has improved. The ACT average is up, graduation rates are up, and college enrollment from CPS schools is now at an all-time high. Even more telling, the open enrollment high school with the highest ACT score in 2004, Morgan Park High School, had an ACT composite average of 18.4. The entire city’s ACT average today is 18.5. This means that the average high school in Chicago is now outperforming the achievement of the best-performing open enrollment high school from 10 years ago. While we certainly have more to do, that is remarkable growth. And the fact that this growth coincided with charter school expansion is not coincidental.
The question before the CPS board this month is not simply whether Noble should be allowed to have a permanent location on the North Side. Instead, it is whether we have the will to continue the work that has moved the city ahead so dramatically.
Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools. Broy is a former civil rights attorney and public school teacher.