How much demand is there for Chicago charter schools? No one knows.

With admissions to the city’s charter schools handled independently, unmonitored by the school district, neither CPS nor the state knows how many children actually apply to charters.

April 2, 2013

Becky Vevea

(UNOonline)
In this UNO clip, Chicago charter school students and parents rally in 2011 for more charters.

Updated 2:30 p.m. with additional data.

Charter schools are expanding in Chicago, even as the district is closing schools due to declining enrollment.

Chicago Public Schools officials explain the seeming contradiction by citing a large demand for charter schools. Charter advocates and even the Chicago Tribune editorial board say 19,000 kids are on charter school waiting lists in the city.

There’s just one problem with that number: it’s not accurate. It significantly overstates demand.

A WBEZ analysis found the 19,000 figure counts applications, not students, meaning if a student applies to four schools, he or she is counted four times. It includes kids who have turned down charter seats and are now enrolled in other schools.

Perhaps the most startling finding is that a significant chunk--about 3,000--are high school dropouts applying for alternative schools. What’s more, saying that 19,000 students are on waiting lists to get into charter schools ignores another figure: there are between 3,000 and 5,000 available seats in charter schools right now, according to charter advocates.

The waiting list number comes from a biennial report compiled by the Illinois State Board of Education in 2012. The figure is roughly calculated from a chart in that ISBE report that compares numbers for how many applications a charter school received with to the number of available seats. The numbers are from 2010-11, the most recent available.

But 19,000 applications is not the same as 19,000 students.

Andrew Broy, the executive director of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools (INCS), is cited as the source for the 19,000 figure in the Tribune’s editorial and also wrote his own opinion piece that ran in Crain’s Chicago Business on March 27.

But that same morning, Broy admitted during a briefing arranged by INCS to give reporters more context on charter school concerns that the waiting list number is off. 

“These numbers are not precise and no one has exact numbers and they’re moving all the time,” Broy said.

Waiting lists are not an accurate measure of demand, according to Neil Dorosin, executive director of the Institute for Innovation for Public School Choice, which designs centralized application systems for large urban school districts.

“If a kid’s on a waitlist at your school but they picked it as their eighth choice, to me that’s a meaningless number,” Dorosin said. “Those kids could also be on six other school’s waitlists and they might prefer those other schools.”

Charter waiting lists: even schools don’t know how many kids apply

By state law, charter schools are required to hold a lottery if demand for their school outstrips supply--if there are too many applications, and not enough seats.

Namaste Charter School, an exercise- and nutrition-focused charter in McKinley Park, held its lottery last Thursday. It received 430 applications for 67 available seats, mostly at the kindergarten level.

That sounds like a lot of demand, but Allison Lipsman, Namaste’s development director, said it's not as straightforward as it might seem.

“Parents want to hedge their bets as much as possible,” said Lipsman, adding that many families apply to lots of schools. She said a “decent number” of families turn down their offer from Namaste in favor of one of CPS’s popular gifted or magnet schools. 

The operations director at Legacy Charter School, a high-performing, single-campus charter on the city’s West Side, said sometimes families with multiple children turn down an offer because not all their children win seats in the lottery, and it’s logistically difficult for them to have children enrolled in multiple schools.

Because Chicago charters run their lotteries independently and admit students without any oversight from the school district, there is no way for CPS to centrally figure out how many individual students submitted those 19,000 applications.But some charter networks do keep track of unique applicants within the schools they operate.

Urban Prep is one such school, according to Tim King, the network’s executive director. He said 1,294 students submitted 1,797 applications for the 450 seats available this fall in Urban Prep’s three schools.

However, other charter school networks, including the city’s largest, Chicago International Charter School, say they don’t have admissions systems advanced enough to figure out how many actual kids have applied to their schools.

CICS spokeswoman Kate Proto said they received 5,701 applications for 1,922 open seats across 16 schools, leaving 3,779 on waiting lists. Proto said not every student chosen in the lottery accepts a seat at CICS. She estimated that CICS will have to pull 1,700 more kids off the waiting list to fill its empty seats.

There are other indicators demand may not be what advocates claim. For the last two years, Perspectives has leafleted neighborhoods to advertise available space in its five schools right up until the first day of school.

And last September, when CPS students spent seven days out of school due to a teachers strike, INCS, UNO and other charter groups boasted that about one-third of the city’s charters had open seats. Charters remained open because their teachers are not members of the Chicago Teachers Union. 

“Just because there’s a sector-wide waitlist, doesn’t mean that every individual school has a waitlist,” Broy said last week. He estimated there are 3,000 to 5,000 openings at charter schools this year.

Parent Diana Juarez has two daughters at Rowe Elementary and said two years ago, she walked right in and signed her kids up.

“Since they were a fairly new school there was still space for kindergarteners. And then there were a few spaces available in first grade, so I was able to immediately apply and put them in.”

Juarez says the charter school has grown more popular, and now holds a lottery.

“I was very, very lucky. Because I have also heard people who have applied to millions of schools and they haven't been able to get into any of them,” she said.

Illinois State Board of Education spokeswoman Mary Fergus said the 19,000 figure taken from its 2012 report should not be misconstrued to mean that 19,000 kids are waiting to get into charters. She said there is no way for the state board to determine waiting list numbers.

99,031 applications for CPS magnet and selective elementary schools in 2013

CPS may not have charter school numbers, but it is able to determine the number of students vying to get into one popular set of schools.

That’s because the central office collects and tracks data on how many unique students apply to its magnet and selective enrollment programs.

Data provided by CPS shows that 13,105 children applied for 1,865 spots in selective enrollment programs this year. Because parents apply to multiple schools, they filed a total of 51,150 applications.

The same data is collected for magnet programs. This year, 13,725 students applied for 3,697 spots in magnet schools; 47,881 total applications were filed. CPS officials said there may be overlap between the two pools of applicants.

The numbers are even higher at the high school level. More than 18,000 students submitted 80,285 applications for spots in the district’s 10 selective enrollment high schools this coming fall.

Dropouts counted in 19,000 figure

Included in the INCS calculation is a group of alternative schools that do not compete for kids in the same way most charters do.

According to the ISBE report, Youth Connections Charter School had 6,889 applications and 3,885 open seats, generating a “waiting list” of 3004 students.

But Sheila Venson, executive director of YCCS, said the alternative schools, which can enroll about 4,000 high-school dropouts at a time, should not be lumped in with other charters when calculating waiting lists.

“I doubt if they’re enrolling kids the way we’re enrolling kids,” said Venson.

In 1997, YCCS was created by consolidating the city’s alternative high schools for dropouts. Demand for these types of schools has been historically high.

Venson said she has no idea where the numbers in the ISBE report came from—or why her schools would be included in the numbers used to prove demand for charter schools. That’s because YCCS has two official enrollment periods—one in September and one in January--and the schools essentially build up their waiting list and “purge” them it at the start of every semester, Venson explained.

A single application?

Though Andrew Broy from the Illinois Network of Charter Schools has insisted that 19,000 children are on waiting lists for Chicago charter schools, he now says he believes the real number is around 65 percent of that. He could not provide any basis for that calculation, other than to say he had done “spot checks with schools.”

He could not explain how any individual campus would be able to determine the number of unique applicants to charter schools system wide.

Broy admits that “no one has exact numbers on this, which are unknowable unless we move toward a single enrollment system.”

CPS had planned to move all high schools to a single enrollment system last fall--regulated by the district--with elementary schools following this year.

But when former schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard stepped down, the plan was put on hold.

Neil Dorosin of the Institute for Innovation for Public School Choice said single-application systems are better able to gauge school popularity and demand, because every student’s preferences are collected in one place.

Education Reporter Linda Lutton contributed to this report.

 

Charter school lottery/admissions data (ISBE)
Charter schoolGrades served# of schoolslottery used?# of apps received for 2010-11# of students selected for 2010-11"waitlist" (difference between applications and students selected)
Academy of Global CitizenshipK-31yes31022288
Alain LockePK-81yes47420454
Amandla5,6,71no  0
ACE Tech9,10,11,121yes19615046
Aspira6,7,8,9,10,11,123yes685435250
Betty ShabazzK-123yes24215092
Bronzeville LighthouseK-81not reported  0
Catalyst-Circle RockK-81yes471196275
Catalyst-HowlandK-81no  0
CICSK-1214yes21679671200
CMSA6,7,8,9,10,11,121not reported  0
Chicago Talent9,101no  0
Chicago VirtualK-121yes314102212
EPIC9,101yes561150411
Erie ElementaryK-61yes1025448
GalapagosK-81yes38095285
Henry Ford Academy9,10,111yes573150423
KIPP AscendK, 5,6,7,81yes64424620
Kwame Nkrumah 1not reported  0
LEARNK-84yes425288137
LegacyPK-71yes25416886
NamasteK-71yes36864304
Noble9,10,11,1210yes630414284876
North Lawndale9,10,11,122yes1164250914
PassagesPK-71not reported  0
Perspectives6,7,8,9,10,11,125yes49567544202
PolarisK-51yes16663103
Prologue-Johnston9,10,11,121yes1788989
Providence-EnglewoodK-81yes20013070
Rowe Elementaryk-31no  0
UCCSPK-124yes1074411663
UNOK-119no*456545650
Urban Prep9,10,11,121yes324135189
Urban Prep - West9,101not reported  0
Urban Prep - Bronzeville91yes281135146
YWLCS7,8,9,10,11,121not reported  0
YCCS10,11,1222yes688938853004
TOTAL   342671488019387

*UNO disputed this and said they held a lottery.

SOURCE: Illinois State Board of Education, biennial charter school report, 2010-11 data as reported by individual charter school operators.

Selective Enrollment Elementary School Programs
School NameTotal ApplicationsSeats Available"Waitlisted"
Beasley2171542117
Beaubien1205371168
Bell2534372497
Carnegie84049791
Coonley3032352997
Decatur3002792923
Edison4207374170
Greeley28944245
Harlan35631325
Keller1881371844
Kenwood962167795
Lane21671352032
Lenart3082283054
Lincoln97932947
Lindblom914198716
McDade1842301812
Morgan Park73190641
Nat’l Teachers Academy83260772
Ogden88245837
Orozco28230252
Poe1647481599
Pritzker2824572767
Pulaski18331152
Skinner North3939693870
Skinner West4746954651
South Loop1873361837
Taft1020140880
Young27281342594
TOTAL51150186549285

SOURCE: Chicago Public Schools, 2012-13 application cycle for Fall 2013 admission.

Elementary School Magnet Programs
School NameTotal ApplicationsSeats Available"Waitlisted" 
BEASLEY12041871017
BLACK1114701044
BURNSIDE371132239
DISNEY31855302655
DISNEY II3241643177
DRUMMOND2763512712
FRANKLIN2122432079
FRAZIER PROSPECTIVE506225281
GALILEO1118691049
GALLISTEL662046
GUNSAULUS28980209
HAWTHORNE2889622827
INTER-AMERICAN1461901371
JACKSON, A3436583378
JENSEN1871970
KERSHAW1383240
LASALLE3333643269
LASALLE II1784851699
MAYER2491802411
MURRAY2123612062
NEWBERRY1730871643
OWEN88846842
PERSHING38160321
RANDOLPH621550
SABIN243114129
SAUCEDO27520867
SHERIDAN1600651535
STEM1540631477
STONE1366861280
SUDER1827491778
THORP, O1087113974
TURNER-DREW54783464
VANDERPOEL1417711346
WILDWOOD109751092
TOTAL47,8813,69744,473

SOURCE: Chicago Public Schools, 2012-13 application cycle for Fall 2013 admission.

UPDATE: CPS said a number of its neighborhood schools run waitlists throughout the year. The following is a list of schools CPS officials said have accepted more than 100 applications from families outside their attendance boundaries for seats next fall. The district collects these applications centrally and conducts lotteries for open seats after neighborhood students have enrolled.

Neighborhood Schools with 100+ applications
AGASSIZCHOPINIRVINGPORTAGE PARK
ALCOTT ESCLISSOLDJAHNPRESCOTT
ARIELCOLUMBUSJENSENPRITZKER
ASHBURNCOONLEYKELLMANPRUSSING
BARNARDCOURTENAYKELLOGGPULASKI
BATEMANDEVERKIPLINGRAVENSWOOD
BEAUBIENDIEGOMCDOWELLRAY
BELDINGDIXONMCPHERSONREINBERG
BELMONT-CRAGINEARHARTMITCHELLSABIN
BLAINEEBINGERMOUNT GREENWOODSAYRE
BOONEEDGEBROOKMURPHYSHOESMITH
BUDLONGEVERSNATIONAL TEACHERSSOLOMON
BURLEYFARNSWORTHNETTELHORSTSOUTH LOOP
BURNHAMGOETHENORWOOD PARKSOUTHSHORE
BURNSIDEGOUDYOGDENSUTHERLAND
BURRGREELEYOGDEN HSTALCOTT
CAMRASHAINESOWENWARD, J
CARNEGIEHAMILTONPEIRCEWATERS
CHAPPELLHARTEPETERSONWOODLAWN
CHASEHITCHPIRIE 

Becky Vevea is an education reporter for WBEZ. Follow her @WBEZeducation.

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