Chicago school board to vote on five new charter schools

Pro-charter group releases survey saying parents want more choice in the system.

January 26, 2011

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Chicago could add five new charter schools to the city if the Board of Education votes Wednesday to approve the schools.

The Board had been slated to vote on the schools last month but yanked the proposals at the last minute, amid protests.

Wednesday’s planned vote comes as supporters and detractors plan to square off again, and as a new public opinion poll shows Chicago parents want more choice in the school system.

“Chicago residents, Chicago parents really believe strongly in choice and support charter schools,” says Phyllis Lockett, head of the pro-charter Renaissance Schools Fund, which commissioned the survey.

The survey polled 200 charter school parents from 29 Chicago charter schools and 300 Chicago Public Schools parents. It was conducted by Richard Day Research and modeled after a similar study in Philadelphia.

It found charter school parents are more pleased with their children’s schools than parents at traditional public schools: 66 percent of charter school parents reported being “very satisfied” with their child’s school, compared to 37 percent of parents whose children attend traditional CPS schools.

In the poll, charter school parents were much more likely to rate the curriculum, safety and teachers at their children’s schools “excellent.”

Still, 80 percent of CPS parents reported being “somewhat satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their child’s school. But when pollsters asked if they had an opportunity to send their child elsewhere, 49 percent of parents said they would. (Despite the stellar grades charter school parents gave their schools, 26 percent of them said they’d consider sending their children elsewhere, too.)

Both charter and traditional school parents said they’d like more choices about where to send their children to school. They overwhelmingly believe parents should have a say in where their children go to school, rather than being assigned a school by the district.

Chicago’s official initiative creating new schools, Renaissance 2010, came to an end last year when the district opened its 103rd new school in five years. Lockett said the survey shows there is demand for more new schools.

The proposals before the board have been scaled back from last month. The district is no longer proposing a Montessori charter school for Englewood or a Northwest Side charter run by a settlement house. It also scaled back a proposal for three schools focused on gaming—the district is now proposing just one.

Supporters and opponents of charter schools are expected at Wednesday’s meeting. The Chicago Teachers Union says it's planning to testify that charters drain resources and attention away from improving the neighborhood schools that serve most Chicago schoolchildren.