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Wednesday, June 10, 2009 01:26 pm

Charter schools are on the ball

Study says more are needed outside Chicago

Even though politicians and education reformers have been singing the praises of charter schools for a number of years now, the concept has been slow to catch on outside of America’s big inner cities. This is especially true in Illinois, where only nine of the state’s 39 charter schools are located outside of the city of Chicago.

Until now, conventional wisdom suggested that the charter schools are unlikely to succeed outside of the Windy City, where the schools and the resources to support them are concentrated in a relatively small area.

However, a report released recently by the Illinois Policy Institute suggests that downstate charter schools and those in the Chicago suburbs are doing quite well and in fact outperforming traditional public schools over 70 percent of the time on standardized tests. Charter schools are public schools operated by businesses, not-for-profits, universities and other community organizations with fewer regulations than traditional public schools.

According to the analysis, which examines the 2007-2008 school year for students K-12, charter schools routinely scored higher than the average district schools in reading, math, writing and science.

In grade-by-grade comparisons, Springfield Ball Charter did better than District 186 schools, in 16 out of 17 categories (District 186’s fifth-graders scored higher on writing tests) for third through eighth grades.

Also, low-income students at Ball Charter outperformed those in District 186 in 14 of the 19 performance measures examined — all except fourth grade reading and science, fifth grade reading and writing, and seventh grade reading.

“Given the strong track record of inner-city charter schools in Illinois, the interest in opening more charter schools is perhaps long overdue in communities outside of Chicago,” concludes Colin Hitt, the report’s author and the IPI’s education-policy director.

Hitt, who lives in Springfield, says lack of awareness, disinterest, and reticence on behalf of local school districts, which sign off on – and then compete against – charter schools has prevented greater expansion throughout the state. He hopes the findings will convince organizations seeking new charters that the schools exist downstate – and can be very successful.

“I hope that someone would look at opening another school like Ball Charter,” he says.

Contact R.L. Nave at rnave@illinoistimes.com

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