Students who attended charter high schools in Chicago are more likely to transfer to another school than their counterparts at district-operated schools — with kids in a low-performing or new charter high school most likely to move.
That’s according to new research published Tuesday by the University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research, its first in-depth look — beyond test scores — at the city’s publicly funded, privately managed schools. Aiming to address questions raised in debates about the independently schools that, 20 years after they opened in Chicago, now account for a fifth of its public schools, “Chicago’s Charter High Schools” also revealed wider variations of quality in charters than in the district-run schools. It didn’t examine individual schools.
Looking at data for students who attended high school between 2010 and 2013, researchers found that about one in every four ninth graders who started at a charter high school ended up at another Chicago school by 12th grade, compared to about one in six kids at a CPS-run school.
“I would say it’s a noteworthy difference and definitely something that should be investigated further,” lead author Julia A. Gwynne, said, adding that the transfers occurred not only for low-achieving students — whom charter critics suspected of being counseled out to keep numbers up — but also for high-achievers. The transfer rates were highest for students at charters with weak academic records — or ones too new to have any track record, where perhaps parents who opted into school choice continued to look for their child’s best option, Gwynne said.
Charter high schools were graduating kids who started ninth grade in 2008 through 2010 at similar rates as CPS schools but were enrolling nearly twice as many graduates into four-year colleges — 45.1 percent compared to 26.2 percent, even when sorting kids by background, according to the report. Charters also got more students into selective colleges — 7.2 percent compared to 2.2 percent.
CPS didn’t dispute any of the findings, but noted that improvements have since occurred since the years the report covered. District-run schools are closing the college gap, partly thanks to collaboration with successful charters which have long focused on planning for after high school, said Janice Jackson, CPS’ chief education officer.
With graduation rates counting toward school ratings, “charters are not incentivized to see students leave for academic reasons,” she said. “When we look at charter schools, we definitely see fewer students moving around, and fewer being expelled.”
Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, applauded the report as “the first comprehensive snapshot we’ve got on how well the city’s doing on college work.”
He suggested that the higher transfer rates at charters could have resulted from higher poverty rates which “correlates with students’ transitions,” or from the burden of traveling from all over the city.