Emanuel dodges questions about charter school performance

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday did a popular political dance —the side-step —when asked about a Chicago Sun-Times analysis that showed little evidence that charter schools, for all of their freedoms, produce students who perform better on standardized tests than their counterparts at traditional public schools.

“The debate about neighborhood and charter is yesterday’s debate — and it doesn’t actually look to the future. It’s about quality vs. the lack of quality,” the mayor told reporters at Austin Polytechnical Academy.

“We’re at a neighborhood school focused on manufacturing. … not far from here is Michelle Clark. It’s focused on a STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math]education with Cisco [Systems]. Quality. 90 percent graduation on target for freshmen. 75 [percent] for last year. That’s a quality education as we try to achieve our goal of 100 percent college-ready, 100 percent college-bound.”

The mayor noted that Chicago Public Schools also have the nation’s largest international baccalaureate (IB) program with “far better graduation rates” than system-wide. The array of choices for parents tailor-made to prevent an exodus to the suburbs when kids reach high school also include military high schools, which Emanuel claimedhave an 80percent graduation rate and 90 percent college attendance.

“Now, if you notice, I’ve told two charters, `You’re gonna close this year.’ We’ve put 11on warning. It’s not about what brand you have. It’s about quality education, quality education, quality education for attendance to college and a career that’s promising,” the mayor said.

“The answer isn’t to pit one education brand against the other. It’s to pit quality vs. years of a stagnant graduation rate. We are finally on our way to an 80 percent college graduation rate after decades of being stagnanton our graduation rate and stagnant on our drop-out rate.”

The mayor was asked whether charters funded by CPS, but freed from regulations impacting traditional public schools shouldn’t have students performing “measurably better” on test scores.

He never answered the question.

“It’s an old debate to look at brand. The new debate is to look at high-quality education that achieves the goal of college readiness, college preparation and career readiness. That’s what I’m focused on at every level,” he said.

“[That’s] why I made sure our neighborhood schools at [the] high school [level] gave parents choice. They need to have the choice. We need to provide quality. Regardless of whether it’s military, selective enrollment,STEM, IB or charter, I want to make sure there’s quality throughout the system and parents will then have the choice of high-quality options.”

The number of privately-run charter schools in Chicago has grown — from none in 1996 to more than 130 today, with more set to open later this year. Charters and other privately run schools now serve nearly one of every seven Chicago public school students.

But, even as many parents have embraced the new schools, there’s little evidence in standardized test results that charters are performing better than traditional schools operated by the Chicago Public Schools system, an examination by the Chicago Sun-Times and the Medill Data Project at Northwestern University has found.

In fact, in 2013, CPS schools had a higher percentage of elementary students who exceeded the standards for state tests for reading and math than the schools that are privately run with Chicago taxpayer funds.

That was true for all CPS-run schools and also just for traditional neighborhood schools, which don’t require admissions tests or offer specialized courses of instruction.

The analysis looked at the scores of every Chicago student who took the state tests last year — nearly 173,000 students at traditional CPS-run schools and more than 23,000 students at charter schools and the much smaller group attending so-called contract schools. Like charters, contract schools are run by private organizations with the authorization and financial backing of Chicago schools officials.

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