Charter school report shows scores of Chicago charters are 'failing' as measured by Illinois tests

Scores of Chicago public schools are being closed for performing poorly on the state tests and replaced by charter schools.

UNO's chief Juan Rangal (above, center, with chin beard) was allowed to speak at the August 26, 2009, meeting of the Chicago Board of Education, despite the fact that he was not on the sign-in sheet and the fact that Board President Michael Scott ended public participation with a dozen speakers who had not been allowed to speak. Rangal was about to receive another windfall from CPS. The Chicago Board of Education voted that afternoon to approve the leasing of the De La Cruz Middle School building to UNO so that UNO could relocate its "Octavio Paz" charter school, supposedly because of an emergency. UNO will have to pay $1 per year for the De La Cruz building. Substance has also learned that the Board of Education is paying for utilities and other costs at the De La Cruz building, another subsidy to UNO. Despite claims, the UNO charter schools, which have been replacing real public schools across Chicago's Southwest Side, are not doing better than the city's regular public schools. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. But what if those charter schools that replaced the ‘failing’ public schools are also performing poorly? Should not they be placed on probation, ridiculed and then closed as well?

That question needs to be asked after the Illinois State Board of Education issued the Illinois Charter School Annual Report in January 2009.

According to the Charter School Performance data, there are 12 Chicago charter schools — almost half of the total charters in Chicago — that did not make the Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) on the state’s ISAT and PSAE tests during the 2007-2008 school year.

Among the more well-known charter schools on this list are Noble, UNO and Chicago International. Each of these schools continue to grow and add more sites. UNO was just awarded a $98 million grant from the state to open more charters in the future.

The UNO Rufino Tamayo 'campus' (above) at 5135 S. California in Chicago is one of seven UNO elementary 'campuses' which comprise the UNO charter school. Under Chicago's version of reality, each charter 'school' can have an unlimited number of 'campuses.' The existence of multiple campuses enabled Chicago to expand the number of charter schools in Chicago to nearly 100 by the time Arne Duncan left Chicago to become U.S. Secretary of Education in December 2008. The 'campus' fiction also enables the charter schools to aggregated data from many location, thereby masking the complete failure of some of its schools and the relative failure of many others. Without having proved that its charter schools provide a superior education to existing public schools, UNO has become a national model. UNO was brought to New Orleans by Paul Vallas to help show Louisiana charter school entrepreneurs how to do it. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. State Representative Dan Burke, who has been very supportive of UNO, said he is quite surprised about the report and requested a faxed copy.

“I’ve always been impressed with them,” said Burke, adding he just wrote a letter of support for UNO to purchase a building near 55th and Kedzie. The other charter schools who should be on probation and targeted for closure according to the Board of Education’s policy are ACT, ACE Tech, ASPIRA, UCCS, Bronzeville Lighthouse, Catalyst [not related to the magazine], North Lawndale, Perspectives, Young Women’s and Youth Connection.

Interestingly enough, the report states that the Board of Ed has not contacted three of these charters about a school improvement plan which is mandatory according to CPS policy.

“I think (charters) should absolutely be held accountable,” State Representative Marlow Colvin told Substance News. “Charter schools give us more choice, but at the end of the day they have to perform.”

The Chicago International Charter Schools (CICS) 'Longwood' 'campus' (above) at 1309 W. 95h St in Chicago is one of ten elementary 'campuses' which comprise the CICS charter school. Under Chicago's version of reality, each charter 'school' can have an unlimited number of 'campuses.' According to the current CPS calendar and directory of schools, CICS has ten elementary 'campuses' and three high school 'campuses'. (One, Longwood, is a K-12 school, so the total number of CICS 'campuses' is actually 12 since Longwood is listed as both an 'elementary' and a 'high school' in the CPS director. With more than 5,000 students this school year, CICS is now the largest 'school' in Chicago, and larger than most Illinois school districts as well. The existence of multiple campuses enabled Chicago to expand the number of charter schools to nearly 100 by the time Arne Duncan left Chicago to become U.S. Secretary of Education in December 2008. The 'campus' fiction also enables the charter schools to aggregated data from many location, thereby masking the complete failure of some of its schools and the relative failure of many others. This is the case with CICS, where some of its 'campuses' (for example, the old Good Counsel High School at Peterson and Pulaski on the far north side) have long outperformed other 'campuses' (like 'Longwood', 25 miles from Good Counsel). Without having proved that its charter schools provide a superior education to existing public schools, CICS has simply repeated the claim over and over. Sometimes, its marketing claims are assisted by organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which funded a 'study' claiming that CICS "Northtown" (the Good Counsel campus) was one of America's best urban high schools — before the school was even a charter school for two full years! Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. Overall, charter schools’ percentage of 8th grade students who meet or exceed the ISAT Reading test declined from 77.9% in 2007 to 74.9% in 2008. All other elementary grades from 3 to 7 in charter schools did show improvement.

However, the number of charter high school students passing the PSAE exam declined overall from 34.8% passing in 2007 to 30.4% passing in 2008. The report’s student retention data listed several charter schools that, despite the rhetoric there are huge waiting lists, show declining student enrollments. For example, KIPP Charter Schools, which just recently forced Penn Elementary on the southside to share space in its school, showed its enrollment decline by one student from 2006-2007 school year to the 2007-2008 school year.

After showing a big jump in enrollment in its third year of operation, Youth Connections then saw a sharp decline, losing more than 1500 students in the 2007-2008 school year.

Because they are less regulated, charter schools (unlike regular public schools) can more easily kick out the students who cause problems. Substance has also documented several cases of students and parents upset with the education they received at the charter school they attended who then returned to a public school.

According to the student retention data, over 200 students did not return to Chicago International, while almost 300 students transferred out of the UNO charter schools. 68 students left ASPIRA to re-enter a public school, while 40 left LEARN charter (currently vying to run another charter on the south side) and 280 left Youth Connection to return to a regular public school in the city.

While many charter schools in the report showed they are hiring more certified teachers, they are not doing likewise with administrators. The business model is taking center stage in the charter schools, mirroring the Board of Education which no longer requires an education background for its chief area officers who oversee the schools. Chicago schools chief Ron Huberman and the seven members of the Board of Education have no education experience.

Only 1 of 12 administrators are certified at Chicago International, none are certified at Chicago Math and Science and Chicago Virtual, only 3 of 28 are certified at Noble Charter schools and only 4 of 22 at Youth Connections.

While corruption and low test scores have forced a number of charter schools throughout the country to close, no such actions have been taken recently in Chicago. According to the state report, the Education-Metro East Agriculture, Health and Applied Science Charter School was revoked by Belleville District 201, Cahokia Unit School District 187, Dupo Community Unit District 196 and East St. Louis District 189. ASPIRA Charter Schools, which is facing a federal lawsuit for strip searching students in addition to changing grades and attendance rates and not making the annual yearly progress on the tests, received an additional $12 million from the state to open more charter schools. Chicago has the vast majority of charter schools – there are 28 charters (some of which spawn numerous campuses to get around the cap on charters) in Chicago District 299 in the report, but the seven other Illinois school districts have only one or two charter schools.

Despite this report, legislators passed a bill this past summer that will allow 45 more charter schools in Chicago.

Earlier in the year Rep. Cynthia Soto sponsored House Bill 363 that would have put limits on school closings with a task force comprised of community members. Despite intense lobbying against the bill by Mayor Daley and powerful business and real estate interests, the bill passed 53-0 in the Senate and 117-0 in the House. However, Governor Pat Quinn vetoed it.

Perhaps the most worrisome aspect of the bill was that the Chicago machine would not be able to control the task force set up to monitor new school construction, school repairs and school closings.

Rep. Colvin said he would be in favor of overriding the governor’s veto because there is not a lot of public input in the current school closing process.

“A public school in the neighborhood is more than an institution,” Colvin said. “It’s a community point. If they are going to make changes, then it is critical that there be local community input.” 

Final edited version of this article posted at October 10, 2009, 5:00 p.m. CDT. If you choose to reproduce this article in whole or in part, or any of the graphical material included with it, please give full credit to SubstanceNews as follows: Copyright © 2009 Substance, Inc., Please provide Substance with a copy of any reproductions of this material and we will let you know our terms — or you can take out a subscription to Substance (see red button to the right) and make a donation. We are asking all of our readers to either subscribe to the print edition of Substance (a bargain at $16 per year) or make a donation. Both options are available on the right side of our Home Page. For further information, feel free to call us at our office at 773-725-7502.


October 10, 2009 at 10:59 AM

By: 20th day closings

20th day


You see, now that it is after the 20th day, charters now get rid of their students.

October 10, 2009 at 3:48 PM

By: Kugler

Great Article

jim nice job breaking down the stats and integrating the historical and nation aspects of school privatization.

October 10, 2009 at 9:53 PM

By: Andrea


CPS finally had the administration fired at ACT Charter after years of failure, although the administrators would tell you they "chose" to leave (they mailed out an expensive piece of fiction outlining their "accomplishments" after they were canned). Illinois Network of Charter Schools (INCS) is part of the problem, too.

October 12, 2009 at 7:55 PM

By: charter teacher

charter schools

I work at one of the CICS schools mentioned in the article. I'm curious if anyone can do division: 200 students who leave between school years, divided by 12 schools = about 17 kids per school. Now, maybe I'm naive, but 17 students leaving between school years doesn't seem like a lot considering how high the average movement between schools is in CPS. It isn't unreasonable to factor in that 17 out of 850 students could easily be due families moving, people losing jobs and not being able to get their kids to school, realizing that a 2 hour bus trip isn't in the best interest of the student (I have several who are on a bus for 2+ hours every morning), parents get stretched thin having kids at 3 different schools all across the city, etc.

CICS certainly has its issues, but movement in/out of the schools isn't one of them.

Also, to the writer of "20th day", I don't know what goes on at other charters, but at our charter, it takes next to a disaster to expel a student.

October 12, 2009 at 9:03 PM

By: xian

I'm not sure that's the main point:

I don't think there is a need to insult your colleagues' math skills.

The article discusses a greater trend of forcing kids out of charters which has been documented. The reporter, because unlike most in the city they did some research, listed all of the charter schools' data.

This is not a hatchet job on CICS. It is an article documenting the double standard between charters and neighborhood schools.

In the national aggregate, charters receive more support, flexibility, and positive press, and produce more violations and worse results.

That doesn't mean any specific charter is bad. Some have great education going on in them. But the average is that they failing educational institutions that non-educators are making tons of money off of.

October 12, 2009 at 10:39 PM

By: Jim Vail


Useful comments on my story, though I'd really like to hear from the Board and how they justify handing more schools over to operators who are "failing" according to their criteria.

I know the legislators I spoke to were concerned and surprised because they're promoting this stuff without all the facts.

One of the most gross aspects of this "choice" for students and parents our masters at the Board and in the corporate world have dreamed up via the Renaissance Plan is that it is creating an even worse situation for the students. How so? Schools in this competitive environment (Race to the Top - Obama's "there will be winners and losers" - think about that statement for a second, you're promoting 'losers' in our schools?) are forcing the problem kids who need special education services out of their schools and focusing more on working with the better students to show great "test scores."

But then there are the charter schools taking the same kids as the public high school and doing no better, if not worse, according to the lousy criteria they use - filling in a bubble test. And in the process they fire all those veteran teachers, many who came from the same background as the kids they taught and were role models.

So anyone has to look at this stuff and ask -do you want better schools or is it about something else.

Follow the money trail and you'll see that it is definitely about something else.

October 13, 2009 at 1:48 AM

By: George N. Schmidt

CICS evasions and marketing claims...

I'd be more than glad to discuss this (or even debate it in public, at an event) with anyone from CICS -- but only after CICS becomes truly 'transparent' with all of its information, from staff salaries (and their central administrative salaries) to special education and other numbers campus by campus.

For tonight, we have one simplistic version of math applied to the data Jim Vail got from the ISBE annual report. If anything is clear form the past decade, it's that oversimplifications of the math are dangerous. I actually remember asking, year after year, first during the "Dot com" bubble (con) and then during the real estate bubble (con), "Can millions of people really be believing this nonsense?"

But, obviously, in both cases, they did. At one point, back during "dot con", the "Market Cap" for companies like Intel and EMC (they were once a very high flyer) was greater than the value of any ten national economies between the Rio Grande River and Tierra Del Fuego -- and yet people kept buying the stocks. Ditto during the 'Flip this house' era -- when 'everyone' knew that housing 'values' (i.e., prices) would only go 'up'. And if they went 'down' they'd never go 'down' by more than 15 percent, because that's what the risk models said.

Hustlers have always found marks by scating around some basic math fallacies, and then flattering people's egos with oversimplifications. It's why today is so great. With spreadsheets and computer power, working people, with time and full 'transparency', can actually confront the numbers in their totality (and the cons and con men and women).

How does this relate to that CICS math exercise that was done yesterday?

Simple: oversimplifying anything, and you're talking about absurdity. This is an example. And it stems in part from CICS's fundamental dishonesty, going back to the beginnings, continuing through that orgy of 'Northtown' lies promoted with Gates millions, and continuing to the current question before us tonight.

Since I edited Jim Vail's article, let's add some CICS facts.

Because CICS is not disaggregating its data, nobody knows which of the 'campuses' is bleeding students. More transparency (and a bit more factual CICS history), and maybe we could have a sensible discussion. That's not what this is.

What the public does know from this tiny amount of public information the CICS discloses (see below for my favorite example) is that CICS (as a whole) dumps and/or loses 200 per year. This is what Jim reported, based on number in the annual Chicago charter schools report.

Contrary to the speculation above, that's divided between the elementary 'campuses' and the high school 'campuses' (of which there are presently sort of three — Northtown, Ellison, and Longwood (sort of, for Longwood, because they say it's K-12).

How many from the elementary 'schools' (er., 'campuses') and how many from the 'high schools' (er., high school 'campuses')?

The second question isn't the total number, but who gets outed (kicked out; counseled out; forced out; dropped out) and how.

At CPS, now and forever, there has been massive transparency on this issue, which is now being used by Huberman and now Duncan naitonally to bash the general public high schools.

The Huberman crowd has been creating teacher bashing 'matrices' which would be a joke if they were public (e.g., evaluating school performance while leaving out the special challenges of special education; sabotaging through position closings well into the first quarter, as happened the past two weeks, etc).

Now back to the charters and their sanctimonious claim that by their very existence they are a superior 'choice' to the real public schools.

Given all the subsidies and hype, and the fact that their performance was supposed to be superior from the beginning, the whole lie has crashed down.

My favorite was 'Northtown." I was there when 'Northtown' proclaimed itself as a superior urban alternative to our 'failing' high schools, with Arne Duncan at the press conference to join the hype, five years ago. It was the same year Duncan teacher bashed and closed Englewood for failure. The Gates Foundation (remember when Melinda Gates fell in love with 'Northtown' and pushed it into the limelight a bit prematurely, shall we say?) hired WestEd to prove that 'Northtown' was already (before it had been in operation three years and before it had graduated one class that didn't include all those suburban white girls who had been grandmothered in from Good Counsel) one of the national models for fixing our 'failing urban high schools.'

It was breathtaking, the lie was so contrived, so well funded, and so blandly hyped by everyone from the families that were getting a tuition free public private school to the suckers from around the USA who were traipsing to Chicago to see the miracle, sort of pilgrimage style.

The Northtown miracle.

The model that Englewood should have been following.

Who knew?

All we had to do was go up and ask the ladies at Good Counsel what to do, and Englewood, simply by following that script, would have gotten good.

So I was up there and asked the 'Northtown' chieftan how many kids 'Northtown' had kicked out (er., counseled out) the previous year. Suddenly, the conversation got very chilly. The answer was "six."

What's so big about "six" when you're dealing with a miracle?

After all, this was Good Counsel in a new kind of drag, waiting to be emulated by Englewood and all those other dropout factories across the urban landscape. Just line up and do what teacher says, etc., etc., etc. like they do (really?) at "Northtown."

Well, six was enough. You get rid of even that small a number of 'bad' kids between your input number and your outtake number and you have a very different statistical result. Keep the 'good' kids and get rid of the 'bad' ones and anyone can have a miracle or two (as long as nobody's looking to closely).

So then I asked where the six went.

Even chillier silence, like I'd suggested one of those unnatural acts we now know were a lot more common in Holy Mother back in the day than had been admitted until SNAP and others blew the whistles -- over and over and over, cover up after cover up...

All I'd asked was "Where did they go?"

"You'll have to raise that with our lawyers..." was the answer.

And still is.

Until every one of those schools (er, 'campuses') is fully transparent down to the "Where did they go?" level, this is just another series of lies. If all those 200 kids left Longwood, it's a major deal.

But if the 'average' (a dangerous notion in the real world, as everyone who's been paying attention to the global economy now knows) is truly 17 per campus, it's still a lot more than those 'six' from Good Counsel/Northtown, and even that smaller number was enough to goose up the numbers for a year, script the lies into a marketing plan (with, of course, the help from Melinda Gates's millions and West Ed's spin), and keep CICS chugging on to the next pile of lies.

Last May at the charter schools "RFP" shindig at the Noble Street 'Comer' 'campus', I asked Ron Huberman whether the data were going to be disaggregated for every charter 'campus' so we could get a peek at what's really going on behind the curtain of those 'averages.' Absolutely totally and unequivocally 'Yes' he replied with that typical smile.

Still waiting, I am.

Bullshoit, I say.

Until the charters are fully 'transparent' at every level and subjected to Huberman's weekly PMS (Performance Management Syndrome) treatments on the 15th floor, all of this is BS. And even with the flimsy bits of data currently available, the charters -- not all of them, just the majority -- are failing by any real comparison with real urban public schools, Chicago style.

The only question at this point is the 5th "W" -- why?

Who, what, when and where are clearly established, a fact of history, which is what Jim Vail is reporting the tip of.

October 13, 2009 at 8:29 PM

By: Confused


Exactly what are you getting at? That's quite a long, rambling train of thought. Was there a point to all of it?

I don't know if you understand the concept of confidentiality, but a school cannot disclose disciplinary action. I happen to know who those 6 kids are, and they were not removed on a whim. I cannot say more due to confidentiality agreements.

I work for Northtown, and I'd say that the biggest concerns with the school lie in the large turn over each year and the unstable (sometimes unqualified) administration. When teachers make it only 1 or 2 years before leaving, it causes a black hole in building, developing, and maintaining a curriculum. We've had 4 CEO's in the time Northtown has been around; the newest CEO seems well qualified, but the track record for a CEO is 2 years, so only time will tell. The teachers unionized in an attempt to stabilize the school environment and to prevent good teachers from burning out. Again, only time will tell.

October 14, 2009 at 12:51 AM

By: George N. Schmidt

CICS covering up push out data...


There are two points there.

First, aggregate data are meaningless for a 'school' with multiple 'campuses'. CICS has to break down data from each of its 'campuses' for the public to understand anything. The use of averages, on the one hand, and the 'campus' fiction, on the other have combined and allowed the problems at many of the 'campuses' to be covered up.

Second, the fact that discipline information on specific students is confidential has nothing to do with what I was discussing and you know it. The data are not confidential, only the details on individuals.

As I noted above, years ago, I asked CICS how many were forced out of 'Northtown.' I got a number: six.

Then I asked where they went, and I was told 'Talk to the lawyers...'


The impact of those six, even as early as the years when CICS Northtown was defrauding Chicago taxpayers by grandmothering in all those suburban Good Counsel girls (the first three years of 'Northtown' actually) could have been large, small, or nothing at all. But if (as I learned) almost all of them wound up at Mather, then the impact (since they were not all nice children) was very large indeed. Combined with low test scores, their impact would have also had an impact on 'Northtown.' The math was simple (and the numbers very low back then). 'Average' test scores at the beginning of the year include those not-so-nice children, but the 'average' has removed them by the end of the year.

It's one of the many ways schools have been able to 'juke the stats' within a one-year period if they are allowed to reduce their sample set selectively between the two dates when the data are finalized.

The same applies to 'dropout'. And since every urban public high school has now had another libel added (this one courtesy of Johns Hopkins and the right wing) 'dropout' data also needs to be fully transparent and disaggregated. After all, we're all 'dropout factories' (Google that one) except the privatized charters (which are by definition good thingies).

So how are 'dropouts' tracked in Chicago Public Schools nowadays?

Every CPS school is supposed to check a box when someone leaves. That's how dropouts and others are tracked, sort of (we don't need to go into how the boxes can be created to help lies, whether in Chicago, Houston, or any other 'miracle' locale).

That enables the school, district, and public to know the ostensible reason for the departure. Not one bit of confidentiality is revealed. The system provides numbers. Every month, the Chief Executive Office provides the Board of Education with a report on the number of expulsions. Numbers, not names.

It's interesting to know that CICS has been churning administrators as well as teachers.

Rumor or fact?

You say. Who knows?

Teachers have been reporting that the charters also churn teachers. Huge turnover. Which ones? When?

Most teachers at the CICS charters (and elsewhere) would also like to know the salaries of the local administrators, as well as how much the downtown bigwigs are paid at CICS. So would the public. Where is that information published. I can go to the CPS Position File and get Ron Huberman's annual salary ($230,000), Barbara Eason Watkins's, and the salary budgeted for every teacher and every other person.

That's transparency.

The charters, in the meantime, specialize in foggery.

As long as CICS and the other charterers are able to get away with hiding most facts about their operations (from the number of kids kicked out and where those kids went, to how much everyone is paid this year), the public is denied its right to know.

If they want to be treated like private institutions, they should be in the private sector. But even with the Renaissance Schools Fund and all those extra Gates, Wal-Mart, and Tribune dollars, they get most of their dollars from the public.

They just get away with telling the public to go to hell when anyone asks how they're spending the public's money.

Or carrying out the public's policies (like on the dropout question I dealt with yesterday).

Sorry, it is complex.

But only because CICS, the Illinois Charter Schools people, and the CPS 'choice' guys and gals have made it that way.

October 15, 2009 at 6:09 PM

By: Bad Administrators to the Right and the Left

Get Politics Out of Education

If truth were a commodity that was practiced by the CPS or valued by the public, all schools’ performances would be available to view. Bad Charter Schools are Bad Charter Schools. If they are truly achieving and real test data can be shown, good for everyone.

Regular schools should also have their data spoken about in a public-friendly way. Prescott School is on probation after the 2008 ISAT test. The principal whispered that news 5 minutes before the Fall Break. He said somewhat desperately that if the teachers were not concerned before....


What are they supposed to do after he rode all over his inherited staff all last year getting rid of them right and left, announced to his LSC that his educational plan would lead them to the Promised Land, bought a flawed, weak reading program, and insisted that the teachers perform as robots using his ridiculous scripts? Gee, who saw probation coming?

The final paragraph in his story should be the fact that he had 4 years at Ravenswood to sell his plan, style, and programs to the staff and the LSC. He couldn’t do it.

Maybe he should sit right down and write himself a letter, saying, “If I wasn’t concerned before…”

September 3, 2010 at 6:17 PM

By: Roberta K

Check The Record

Check the record online - UNO has once again failed AYP. When will the light come on in the BOE and mayor's office. This charter-thing doesn't work.

September 24, 2010 at 1:11 PM

By: Laticia

UNO Has Uncertified Adminsitrators

UNO has uncertified administrators directing schools too! And they fired a good one because they couldn't force him to move to another of UNO new schools. Who audits charter school management?

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