Chasing the Blues Away: Charter Schools Scale Up in Chicago

Robin Lake and Lydia Rainey, Progressive Policy Institute
May 2005

Lake and Rainey of the University of Washington's Center on Reinventing Public Education authored this latest entry in PPI's series on charter schools in key states and cities. In 35 pages, it recaps the gnarly history of school reform in the Windy City and places charter schools into that context. Despite a tight state-imposed charter-school cap, support from Mayor Daley and successive school CEOs Paul Vallas and Arne Duncan - as well as some imaginative entrepreneurship on the ground - has yielded 27 functioning charter campuses enrolling 3.6 percent of all the kids in town. That's paltry, given the size of the place and the more dramatic growth visible in cities like Washington and Dayton. What's most interesting is the report's perceptive discussion of the pros and cons of the school system itself leading the charter movement and serving as sole authorizer. Some people view "district charters" as an oxymoron, others as the main path to urban school reform. Reality surely lies in between. I was struck, reading this accessible and perceptive account, by how hard it is for a district to get this balance right, even when the people at the top are enthusiastic. Of course, it doesn't help that Illinois state authorities are grudging at best toward charter schools and that the state has a miserable charter law. See for yourself here.

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