Chicago Charter Schools 101

Written by: Kate Proto

Over the past 15 years, charter schools in Chicago have become an attractive option for families. Some have a specialized focus, whereas others take a “back-to-basics” college- preparatory approach. Most, if not all, charter schools in Chicago put an emphasis on  innovative methods of teaching and learning.

To begin with, how do you find a charter school that is close to home and has high academic outcomes?  You can start by searching one of several databases that exist online:

New Schools for Chicago hosts a New Schools EXPO at Soldier Field in November. Many charter schools offer open houses at their  campuses. Call schools, ask to meet the school leader, tour the school, and have your child shadow a peer during a typical school day to best make your selection.

What is a charter school? A charter school is a privately managed public school that is free from several regulations imposed by state and local education and governmental agencies. Charter schools are held accountable for student performance with regular reviews of academic outcomes.

Charter school facts

  • Over 50,000 public school children in Chicago attend charter schools
  • Public schools of choice
  • Tuition free and no entrance exams
  • Enrollment by random lottery (if needed)
  • Most applications require proof of residence in Chicago and proof of child’s age, and can be found at school locations and on website
  • Most charter schools accept applications from across the city. Some have attendance boundaries in place
  • Longer school day and year
  • Highly qualified teachers
  • Objective is to close the achievement gap between urban students and their more affluent peers.

The Charter Process

A state legislature creates a charter law, which gives specific authorizers, like public school districts and universities, the right to grant charters to foundations, community organizations, or other groups. The charter is a contract between the group that wants to operate a school and the authorizing organization (in Chicago, that authorizer is CPS).  The charter details the school's mission, the student population, the ways the school will measure performance, etc. Once a group earns a charter, it can either manage its own school or contract with another organization to manage the programs.  Both charter and traditional public schools are funded by public dollars. The city has the right to close a poorly performing charter school.

Benefits of Charters

At a charter school, decisions about how best to serve students are made in the school by teachers and administrators who know the student population they serve. Parents also have significant input into and involvement with the school. Educators have more freedom to innovate and more local control to tailor their lessons to their students' needs.

A parent must choose to enroll his or her child in a charter school—as opposed to being assigned a neighborhood school— so charter schools introduce choice and competition into the school system. It forces neighboring schools to compete for students (and the state dollars that come with them), and competition inspires improved performance.

Most urban centers across the country are struggling to graduate even half of their high school students.  We believe that as charter schools introduce innovations, such as lengthening the school day, extending the school year, and evaluating teachers' effectiveness by examining students' achievement over time, we can drastically improve the quality of urban education.

Why Choice is Good

Choice ensures competition and ultimately leads to higher quality and unique innovation. The introduction of charter schools has helped push education to behave in this manner, forcing schools to provide a quality education for our children, or risk parents and families choosing somewhere else to educate their children.

Posted on March 08, 2013 at 9:57 AM