Accountability

Chicago tags two charter schools for possible closure, warns five others

PHOTO: Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images

As Chicago’s five-year moratorium on school closings ends this year, the school district has labeled two charter schools and one contract school as possible candidates for closure and has issued warnings to five others tagged as underperforming.

The announcement comes as part of data released Friday that rates schools across the Chicago district. Since 2013, the district has issued a “warning list” of charter schools whose performance rating is poor.

Overall, more charter schools received the top two ratings, with 41 schools — 40 percent of charters in the city — ranked in Level 1-plus or Level 1, compared with 33 last year. At the same time, nearly 1 in 5 charters earned one of two lowest rankings. That’s the same portion of district schools in the bottommost levels.

Chicago has five rankings for schools.

The schools facing possible closure for poor performance are Kwame Nkrumah Academy, a K-8 charter school in West Roseland; Plato Learning Academy, a contract school (run by the district but maintaining some autonomy) in the South Austin neighborhood; and Urban Prep West in University Village.

All three received warnings last year for previous years’ poor performance, and remain at the bottom of ratings.

“CPS is closely evaluating the performance record for each of the three schools that are eligible for closure and will make a recommendation in the coming weeks to the Board of Education regarding the future status of each school,” the district wrote in a press release announcing the data.

The district issued new warnings to five other charter schools based on low performance in 2017-18: Chicago Virtual Charter School, Chicago Collegiate, Acer’s Paz, Frazier Charter School and Montessori Englewood. If they are not able to improve their ratings, they risk being slated for closure next year.

Principal Charles M. Williams Jr., who heads Plato, challenged the district’s School Quality Rating Policy as a way of encompassing a school’s progress. “Two years ago we were in the 18th percentile for math; this past year we are at the 42nd percentile. We have made enormous gains,” he said. “Unfortunately, the metrics for the SQRP are very rigid.”

As for the risk of closure, Williams said he wasn’t worried at all. “We have excellent people doing excellent work, I know that we are moving in the right direction,” he said.

The district released data the same week that teachers at 19 charter schools in two networks announced they would take strike authorization votes.  

Several developments have heightened parents’ worries about potential school closings. Besides the moratorium ending, the district released a census showing low enrollment at a number of campuses, and new enrollment figures issued Friday show the student population continuing to shrink.

Testing

New report shows Indianapolis students lag on test improvement, but innovation schools may be a bright spot

PHOTO: Anthony Lanzilote

A new study finds mixed results for Indianapolis Public Schools dramatic shake-up in recent years: Students in schools within the district boundaries are below the state average when it comes to improvement on tests, but students at charter and innovation schools appear to be doing better.

Indianapolis Public Schools students are making smaller gains on math and reading tests than their peers across the state, according to a study released Thursday by the Stanford-based group CREDO, which looked at data from 2014-15 through 2016-17. It is the first in a series of studies examining 10 cities. In Indianapolis charter schools, students are about on par with peers across the state, researchers found.

“Indianapolis students persistently posted weaker learning gains in math compared to the state average gains in the 2014 through 2017 school years,” said Margaret Raymond, Director of CREDO at Stanford University in a press release.

The most highly anticipated part of the study, however, is the first major look at the results for innovation schools, a new kind of district-charter partnership. Results from innovation schools show some positive signs but still left unanswered questions.

The study found that students at innovation schools, which were created in 2015-16 and have been rapidly expanding, made gains in math and reading in 2016-2017 that were similar to the state average. But the gains are not to a statistically significant degree.

If the innovation schools are able to maintain the pace of student improvement, it would be a remarkable boon for the district. The study is also further evidence that at least some of the innovation schools are helping students make big gains on state tests. When 2016-17 state test scores were released, several innovation schools had jumps in passing rates. But the inconclusive nature of the results also highlights how hard it is to judge a program that is still in its infancy.

Since the district began creating innovation schools in 2015, their ranks have rapidly swelled. There are now 20 innovation schools, which enroll about one in four of Indianapolis Public Schools’ students.

Innovation schools have drawn national attention from advocates for collaboration between traditional districts and charter schools. They are under the Indianapolis Public Schools umbrella, and the district gets credit for their test results from the state. But the schools are run by outside charter or nonprofit managers. The network includes a variety of schools, including failing campuses that were overhauled with charter partners, new schools, and previously independent charters.

Charter unions

Teachers at 4 Chicago International Charter Schools threaten Feb. 5 strike

Charter teachers announce a strike date outside of outside CICS Wrightwood Elementary School in the Ashburn neighborhood.

Unless they reach a compromise with their network bosses, teachers at four Chicago International Charter Schools will strike on Feb. 5. The teachers announced the strike date Thursday morning in response to a months-long stalemate over bargaining.

The union is demanding increased pay and benefits for both teachers and paraprofessionals, smaller class sizes, more resources for classrooms and more counseling and social work staff. Last fall, 96 percent of Chicago International’s 138 unionized educators voted to authorize a strike.

“We need to reduce staff turnover and increase stability of our schools because it creates an environment in which students can thrive and learn,” said Jen Conant, a math teacher at CICS Northtown and a union chair for negotiating members. “Compensation and benefits are key elements to reducing staff turnover.”

Chicago International is the umbrella organization for 14 schools run by a handful of management companies. Educators and some paraprofessionals at four of those schools are unionized — one run by Chicago Quest and another three by Civitas Education Partners. The four schools are ChicagoQuest, Northtown Academy, Ralph Ellison and Wrightwood.

In a statement to Chalkbeat, a spokesperson with Chicago International Charter Schools said the organization valued and respected the work of the schools’ teachers and staff but would do their best to prevent a strike.

“We know that we all come to work for the same reason – our students – and no matter the position, we are driven by the same goal of helping our students to succeed,” the statement said. But, “CICS is disappointed that the CTU has chosen to announce this strike and we will do everything we can to minimize the harm to our students and their families.”  

Chicago International also announced contingency plans at their four buildings in case of a strike: all campuses would be staffed by principals and non-union staff and remain open during usual school hours. Breakfast and lunch, along with online learning and recreational activities, would be available to students who came to school.

The announcement follows other high-profile teacher union actions. The nation’s first charter school teacher strike took place in Chicago in December, when some 500 union members at Acero charter schools walked off for a week. And Los Angeles teachers who are out on their first strike in 30 years this week were joined on the picket lines by charter educators on Tuesday.

The vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union connected the demands of teachers from Chicago International Charter Schools to the wave of teachers strikes that took place across the country in 2018.  

“Oklahoma. North Carolina. Arizona. West Virginia. Kentucky. Chicago. Los Angeles. It is very clear that in 2019 teachers are going to have to stay on the picket line to ensure smaller class sizes, to ensure that resources are really coming into our classrooms,” Stacy Davis Gates said at a press conference outside CICS Wrightwood Elementary School in the Ashburn neighborhood.

The Charter union Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (ChiACTS), which originally represented charter teachers, joined the Chicago Teachers Union last summer.

This week, the Chicago Teachers Union also delivered a 75-point set of contract demands to the city addressing a wide range of issues, including a push for a 5 percent pay raise, as well as a request for district action on overcrowded classrooms and the loss of veteran black female teachers.