The Chicago Teacher Union vs. Charter Schools
This is the second week of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) strike. It’s the second CTU strike in less than 10 years, and it’s having wide and far-ranging repercussions.
Even worse, if the strike persists for a few more days, thousands of CPS students will not be able to participate in the upcoming Illinois high school playoffs. This is especially unfortunate because these postseason athletic tournaments are prime opportunities for CPS students to showcase their athletic abilities and receive scholarship offers from college scouts and recruiters, who routinely attend such athletic extravaganzas.
Another huge consequence of the current strike is a death blow to charter schools in the Windy City. Although CTU and CPS officials are still negotiating issues involving teacher compensation, more support staff, and smaller classroom sizes, it seems as though both sides easily and eagerly agreed on one thing: a moratorium on new charter schools in Chicago.
This is an alarming development. CPS and CTU are more interested in protecting and even expanding their monopoly on public-school education than they are helping children escape failing schools. Chicago is a city that desperately needs more, not less, school choice. This commonsense notion is shared by Chicago residents, especially those stuck in dangerous and poorly performing schools, who overwhelmingly support school choice.
For years, the “public school industrial complex” and its minions have tarred and feathered charter schools. However, despite this concerted campaign, the evidence shows charter schools are hugely beneficial.
As the Illinois Network of Charter Schools (INCS) notes, “Charter schools are free, independent neighborhood public schools open to all children, including students who are English language learners and students with special needs. Charter schools do not have special entrance requirements and have the freedom to be innovative, while being held accountable for advancing student achievement.”
Unlike the hopelessly outdated one-size-fits-all public-school model, “Each charter public school is unique -- both inside and out. Some may focus on college preparation, math and science, and others integrate the arts into each subject. While the possibilities are endless, charter public schools aim to provide a range of options so that parents can choose the school that best fits their child’s needs.”
Further, school choice programs, including charter schools, have a proven track record of success. According to EdChoice:
- “Given enough time, school choice programs create small, positive test score gains for participating students. Of the 18 random assignment studies conducted, 13 have found positive outcomes for either the full sample or at least one sub-sample of students studied.”
- “School choice programs appear to increase graduation rates for participating students. Three studies have examined these effects so far and found positive effects on educational attainment for at least one subgroup of students.”
- “There is virtually no evidence that school choice harms neighboring public schools. In fact, students tend to experience small gains on test scores there. And school choice programs achieve these benefits with fewer public resources. Of the 33 studies that examine the competitive effects of school choice programs, 31 found positive effects, one saw no visible effect and one found negative effects. Moreover, 40 fiscal analyses have been conducted on school choice programs. All but three found these programs generated net fiscal savings overall for taxpayers, and three found the programs were revenue neutral for taxpayers.”
- “Similarly, we see no evidence that students who participate in school choice programs are alienated from their communities or show less public-spiritedness than their public school-educated peers. In fact, research too appears to show the contrary. Of the 12 studies looking at civic values and practices outcomes, eight found positive effects. Four found no visible effect, and none found negative effects.”
- “School choice ameliorates segregation. It does not exacerbate it. Of the 10 studies that have examined school choice’s effect on integration in schools, nine found positive effects. One was unable to detect any effects, and none found negative effects.”
This last point is especially relevant to charter schools in Chicago. Chicago has 121 charter schools serving 57,000 students. Of these 57,000 students, 98 percent “identify as students of color” compared to 87 percent in CPS. Moreover, 88 percent of Chicago charter school students “receive free or reduced lunch,” compared to 75 percent in CPS. Chicago charter schools also enroll a higher percentage of special-needs students.
INCS also shows Chicago charter school students routinely outperform their CPS peers. Charter school students in the Windy City have “higher college and university enrollment rates” (7.2 percent compared to 2.2 percent). Charter school students have higher standardized test scores, based on PLAN and ACT tests. Charter school students complete more college coursework (21 percent compared to 13 percent). And last but not least, Chicago charter schools have higher attendance and classroom engagement rates than their CPS peers.
There is a treasure trove of empirical evidence showing school choice is unequivocally a net positive. Taking politics out of the equation, using simple logic, it seems like a no-brainer that more education options (private schools, charter schools, homeschooling, etc.) equals more opportunities for students to attend the best school that fits their unique needs and circumstances.
Unfortunately, CTU and CPS officials have conspired to suspend the expansion of charter schools in the Windy City. Sadly, union bosses and far too many CPS teachers are putting their lust for more money and power first and foremost, thus preventing thousands of Chicago students from having the opportunity to escape Chicago’s terrible public schools for much greener pastures in charter schools.
Chris Talgo (email@example.com) is an editor at The Heartland Institute and a former public-school teacher.