After reading your article on charter schools [Charting a New Course, April], I was confused about the line you used on the cover—“Charter Schools: Why They Work.” If charter schools in Chicago really worked, then why have some of said schools already failed? Why are testing results only marginally up compared with their CPS counterparts? And why is it OK for charter-school teachers to work under such conditions as lower pay and longer hours?
The American Dream is that anyone who is willing to work hard and better themselves will be rewarded. We encourage people to try and earn as much as they can. If an employee takes less, we say they lacked confidence in their abilities. However, teachers are automatically expected to accept less and work longer hours. WHY?
I can’t go to the bank and pay my mortgage by telling the teller that, well, I don’t have the money, but I care about students. Many of the young teachers who are willing to work for less gain experience and then apply to suburbs like Naperville (where the pay is good and the working conditions are better).
The cover line of the article should have been “Charter Schools: Why?”
The interview with Arne Duncan [What Arne Learned] was interesting, but I beg to differ with him on the youth homicides in Chicago. [Duncan said that schools couldn’t solve the youth-homicide problem.] The schools are exactly the venue to direct the efforts. I demonstrate in the current February issue of Psychological Reports that if Chicago would focus resources in high-homicide areas (West and South sides of Chicago) on the 5,000 core high-risk youth (the dropouts, the alcoholics, the addicts, the career delinquents, and the homicide-prone) we could reduce the 150 yearly youth homicides by 89 percent by using empirically proven treatments from infancy through adulthood. If we would screen high-school and college students and workers we could save another 20 to 40 homicides. That is 173 fewer homicides a year.
Robert John Zagar
As an LSC [local school council] member on a community council, I wonder why can’t the charter schools match the performance of so many public schools?
My Northwest Side elementary school is not in a wealthy neighborhood. It is in working, middle-class Jefferson Park. Unlike [with] charter schools, concerned parents do not have to apply in writing or make a trip to the school to be interviewed. Our school cannot decide not to take in a certain number of special-education, bilingual, or poorest students (who may not be able to pay school fees) who score lower on tests. The biggest privilege [charter schools have] is that [they] can kick out students for any reason. Even magnet schools do not have this privilege. Despite all these advantages, none of the charter schools has test scores better than the ordinary area school on which I am an LSC member.
How can it be that, without the resources and advantages of a charter, many ordinary area schools constantly score higher? I do not know the reason; however, a clue might be [in] the words of Tim King [the founder and CEO of Urban Prep Charter Academy]: “We don’t have [teachers] with 20 years’ experience and two Ph.D’s.” Frankly, I would not want to send my child to a school with the least educated teachers. The principal at our school has advanced degrees; so do most faculty. None of us takes pride in lack of knowledge by anyone on our staff.
Your article about charter schools conveys the unfortunate, and incorrect, impression that teachers’ unions and charters don’t mix. That is not the belief of the teachers at three campuses of the Chicago International Charter Schools network who filed union authorization cards in April for the Illinois Federation of Teachers and American Federation of Teachers.
Charter schools have not been the panacea they promised, as test-score comparisons have shown. Every stakeholder must work to strengthen all public schools, including charter schools. The teachers’ union is an essential partner in achieving that goal.
Ed Geppert, Jr.
President, Illinois Federation of Teachers
UPDATE: CHARTING A NEW COURSE
At about the same time that Chicago’s April 2009 issue hit newsstands, several new developments arose relating to the city’s charter schools.
On March 17th, Chicago Public Schools announced that, between 2004 and 2008, the proportion of students attending charter elementary schools who met or exceeded state standards on the composite Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) had increased from 53.9 percent to 70.5 percent. During that same five-year period, the proportion of students at noncharter elementary schools who met or exceeded state standards on the composite ISAT increased from 40 percent to 60.8 percent.
On another front, as noted in the previous letter, teachers at the Northtown, Wrightwood, and Ralph Ellison campuses of the Chicago International Charter School network voted to unionize. At presstime, the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board was still reviewing the vote.
“So Bad It’s Good” in April’s Chicago Guide misstated the instrument played by the Velvet Lounge’s owner, Fred Anderson. He plays the saxophone.
April’s Easy Riders misspelled the name of the artist Michael Heizer.