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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The charter choice

As I was dropping my children off at their Chicago Public School this morning, another mother stopped to ask me about charter schools. Her child is a 7th grader and she has begun the arduous task of investigating the multitude of high school options. She had just attended an open house at CICS Northtown, and came away very impressed.

This mother wanted to know how admissions worked for charter schools. When I explained that it was a citywide lottery, done in public with full transparency, she was impressed -- but discouraged. As she told me, “I don’t want to get too enthusiastic about a charter school when I know my child literally has to win the lottery to gain admission.” I don’t know that the odds of gaining admission to one of the college prep magnets are any better or worse than winning a charter school lottery, but it doesn’t really matter -- the odds are stacked against your child in both instances.

Just a few weeks ago, I attended an open house at the Disney II performance school and was wowed by the fabulous work being done there. But, like my friend, I walked away discouraged, knowing it was all but impossible to get my 7 year old twins into the school.

This dilemma is occurring across the city. And what it really comes down to is the fact that there are not enough high quality options for ALL children -- charter, magnet, or neighborhood schools. I work daily to serve and promote charter schools because I believe they dramatically raise the academic achievement -- and brighten the future -- for so many children that would otherwise be stuck in failing schools.

Charters are not the only answer, but right now they are the best lever we have to push the public school system to close the achievement gap. I just wish there were more of them!

--Pamela Clarke

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