Perspectives and Urban Prep charter schools dump 'failing' students back into public high schools?

Parent LaTanya Jones has tried just about everything to keep her son, Tyrone Taylor, at Perspectives Charter School in the South Loop. She repeatedly pushed to enroll him in a comprehensive tutoring program at the University of Chicago so that the school would not kick him out for academic failure. Despite her best efforts, Perspectives has not cooperated.

Perspectives Charter School pushes out ‘failing’ students before test time

As a result Tyrone was expelled from the well known charter school at the end of the 2007 school year because of a policy implemented just before the start of the 2007-2008 school year. That policy allowed the Perspectives administration to remove students who failed to maintain a 2.0 average for two or more academic terms. Jones attributes her son’s fate to the murky nature of the charter experiment itself — an experiment which allows many children to be abandoned by their “school of choice” — “due not only to failing grades but also to low grades.” 

Nonetheless, charters carry with them the promise of greener pastures for many parents in low income and high crime communities who dread the thought of sending their children to neighborhood schools. Much of the allure stems from the ways that charters screen their incoming students and the large sums of private money that some have been known to raise.

Over the summer, one of the districts flagship charter programs, Urban Prep, was awarded a $1 million donation on the condition that they raised enough money to match the contribution. The potential windfall of funds could be a godsend for Urban Prep’s founder Tim King, former CEO of Hales Franciscan. King says that in order to “do the programming we want to do at the school we have to spend more than we are given by CPS.”

The additional $1 million will be tacked onto the $1.6 million the school has already received in private funds in the first two years of its operation. All the new money should help Tim King and company “leverage other donors to the school.” The total per pupil spending, in its first two years of existence, amounts to almost $12,000 for each student, a figure higher than the district average of $10,000.

Urban Prep Charter School not serving students from Englewood

Perhaps Reverend Meeks should target Urban Prep for being a beneficiary of the unequal ways that the state of Illinois funds education.

If the Englewood based charter can secure the $1 million in matching funds for their current donor challenge, they will have ample resources to outperform nearby schools even though only 14 percent of their student body resides within the Englewood community. Davon Redmond, a rising junior at Urban Prep – “grew up in [the] Roseland neighborhood in the 100s.” If Davon had not been admitted to Urban Prep he “would’ve went to Fenger or Corliss” - his neighborhood schools. But even the minority of students who live within the Englewood area would not necessarily have attended their neighborhood school, which begs the question, if charters are not serving the students who would have otherwise attended the schools in their communities - then who are they serving?

For Marquin Gibson, also a junior at the school, Urban Prep was his only option within the community:

“I live on 73rd and Emerald. If I wouldn’t have gone to Urban Prep, honestly my mom would’ve moved out to the suburbs, like the Homewood Flossmoor area and I would’ve had to attend one of the schools cause I really didn’t have no options left so it was kind of my savior, I guess you could say. I had took some selective enrollment tests for many other schools and mostly I didn’t do really well on any of the tests and therefore we looked around I didn’t want to attend any of the neighborhood schools because they were so bad and because of their reputation. My mom didn’t want me to go to any of those.”

Apparently Urban Prep, like Perspectives, is also removing students who do not fit within their vision of a high performing student.

Before students can be formally admitted to the school they must attend a three week summer immersion program; a requirement that automatically eliminates many students in the area who do not have the discipline or parental support to complete such a regimen — or students who are working at jobs which require their time during the summer.

According to four young men who attend the school, of the 300 students who were enrolled as of last year, 50 to 60 students have been expelled, transferred or dropped out. A former staff member at Englewood High, who asked to remain anonymous, explained that two of the expelled students now attend Paul Robeson High School, a traditional secondary program in the Englewood community that is rumored to be included in the next set of school closings.

One of Urban Prep’s administrators, Dennis Lacewell, contests the retention figures given by the students and claims that only 15 out of the 300 students have left the school, of which only six were expelled over the past two years.

Trevon George’s family did not initially want him to attend the neighborhood school. “My mom she didn’t really want me to go to Urban Prep because it was in the Englewood community” he said. “So [if not for Urban Prep] I probably would’ve ended up going to a suburban school — or my sister was going to move to Joliet, so I would’ve attended a school there.”

School choice was supposed to provide better opportunities for children, but the conversations I had with charter school students over the summer suggest that choice is only available to a select group of students who possess social and economic advantages over their peers.

In addition, as charters begin to carve out an entirely new tier of schools, beyond selective enrollment programs, they appear ready to siphon off much needed resources from traditional community-based schools — even as they claim to serve those very children.

The truth about Renaissance 2010 shows that charters are not a panacea for the woes of urban school districts, but a way to disguise the continued neglect of marginalized communities. 


August 21, 2009 at 8:31 AM

By: Anonymous

urban prep review

Urban prep poses a good image, but thats all it is: AN IMAGE. As a former student, I have personally experienced turmoil and hardship while attending this school. That is the exact reason why I left. It is a academically-oriented institution that promotes the idea of exceptionality and excellence. This is one of its good aspects. The really big downside of attending this school is the constant battle that has to be fought to even make it to school safely. If it is not the surrounding area that a student has to deal with, it is the handful of students who attend UP who do not want to learn that cause problems. All in all, this school has alot of progressing to do.

August 21, 2009 at 9:19 AM

By: George N. Schmidt

Editor, Substance

August 21, 2009

Good morning, Anony...

As you know, our reporter covering the charter schools is always a very busy man. Urban Prep isn't the only Chicago charter school where the divergence between hoopla, marketing, and reality is vast (and growing more vast with each passing year).

However, we would like to hear more from you about Urban Prep. This is especially important since Urban Prep has been dancing on the grave of one of Chicago's most famous public high schools -- Englewood High School -- in a most unseemly manner, and since the Urban Prep "miracle" was foisted on the Englewood community by Arne Duncan, Arenda Troutman, and other notorious crooks after the majority of the people at Englewood expressed their unequivocal opposition to (a) the closing of Englewood and (b) the trendy placement of UP within the walls of what had been a famous high school with an international reputation (not just Lorraine Hansberry, but that was part of it).

If you wish to contact Jim Vail, who writes about charter schools for Substance and, you can e-mail us at As you know, we have to be able to confirm any facts, but we do keep our sources off the record provided that we know who they are in real time in the real world (and not just Anonymously in cyberspace).

Good luck this school year. As you can read earlier on this Home Page, there are more than 70 real public high schools in Chicago, and just because they've been sabotaged by Arne Duncan, Ron Huberman, and the privateers surrounding Mayor Daley doesn't mean we're not fighting back -- from Taft to Washington, and from Ag to Sullivan. If you find your way to Robeson or Julian, to name two (see above at the Home Page) you'll find both interesting friends and some of the best teachers in the USA -- without all that hype and visiting celebrity nonsense.

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