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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

How to measure success

The political arena surrounding education is often charged, and recent headlines, like the exit of Josh Edelman from CPS or the talk that there will be A-F report cards for all public schools in Chicago, only reinforce this notion. With all the changes and questions about how to measure charter schools’ impact, what’s going to come next? I find it helpful to look at the big picture in times like these, in order to maintain perspective.

News from New York State is certainly encouraging — a recent report by Stanford economist Carline Hoxby shows just how much can be achieved when you combine the charter school model with supportive policies and an engaged and thoughtful authorizer. The study How New York City’s Charters Affect Achievement followed students who got into a charter public school and compared the group to those who, like so many in Chicago, were on a waiting list. The results are certainly encouraging: students at charter public schools outperform students at traditional district schools in math and English, and they make greater annual academic gains. Also, just as in Chicago, charter students are more likely to graduate (by a rate of 7% here in Chicago and 28% in New York). In light of these results, charter schools and their proponents should be proud that we helped more students reach high academic standards.

Operational elements are largely credited for the study’s findings. New York’s charter schools are notable for their data-driven instruction, extended day and year, flexible curriculum, parental involvement, and merit pay for teachers. These findings show that charter schools can inspire achievement in urban areas. Like Chicago, New York has a waiting list of students who wish to attend a charter public school, but, with the recent doubling of the charter school cap in Illinois, more students will have a chance for success at a charter school here. You can visit the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools to find out more about charter schools’ operational differences.

A human element I feel is linked to school success is leadership. In another look at the big picture, The Principal Story by Chicago Filmmakers’ Todd Lending and David Mrazek aired on PBS stations last week. It shows just how important having the right person in this tough job is. For example, charter schools give leaders the authority and autonomy they need at the school level to make decisions that matter. The charter model lends a more strength to the crucial task of school leadership. You can visit The Wallace Foundation for clips of the documentary and educational resources that go along with the film.

While the road is rocky at times, charter public schools are headed in the right direction. We are helping students reach their full potential, and that can only be counted as a success.

Sylvia Ewing
INCS Interim Executive Director

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