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Student Darrius Jones describes his decision to leave Urban Prep and attend Bronzeville Scholastic Institute.

Numbers don’t prove city charter schools cream, dump students

by Danielle Cadet
March 15, 2011


Modifications to last year's CPS Student Code of Conduct

 Policy Statement: has been modified to add notice that parents must promptly notify the school of any
change of address, phone number(s) and other contact information and shall promptly reply to school
requests to complete an emergency form at least two times per year.

Scope of the Student Code of Conduct: has been modified to include a Discrimination, Sexual
Harassment, and Retaliation Statement, which explains the appeals process for student victims of alleged
discrimination, sexual harassment or retaliation.

Group 4 – Inappropriate Behaviors (“IB”): adds 4-14 – Use or possession of alcohol in school or at a
school related function or before school or a school related function.

Group 5 – Inappropriate Behaviors: IB 5-14 - modifies language to clarify that students can be
disciplined for using non-CPS computers and social networking websites to stalk, harass, bully, or
intimidate other students or staff members.

Group 5 – Inappropriate Behaviors: adds IB 5-17 – Use or possession of illegal drugs, narcotics,
controlled substances, “look-alikes” of such substances, or contraband, or use of any other substance for the purpose of intoxication in school or at a school related function or before school or before a school related function.

Group 5 – Inappropriate Behaviors: adds IB 5-18 – Second or repeated violation of Inappropriate
Behavior 4-14, use or possession of alcohol in school or at a school related function or before school or
before a school related function.

Group 6 – Inappropriate Behaviors: modifies IB 6-6 to include only sale or delivery of alcohol, illegal
drugs, narcotics, controlled substances, “look-alikes” of such substances, or contraband, or second or
repeated violations of Inappropriate Behavior 5-17.

Appendix C: has been modified to revise the definition of “Chicago Public Schools’ Electronic Network- Related Technologies and Access (“CPS Network”).”

Appendix F: adds new section titled CPS Policy Website to inform students and parents where to
obtain copies of CPS policies. Adds new section titled Administration of Medications Policy to give notice about the Board’s requirements for administering medication to students during school hours.

When it comes to school, Darrius Jones has this to say.

“It’s just what I do.”

Taller than six feet, the 17-year-old senior at Bronzeville Scholastic Institute not only stands above his classmates, but also soars academically. He has a kind smile and a cordial demeanor, and upon conversing with adults he politely responds with an occasional “yes ma’am” or “no sir.” His teachers describe him as a model student, and one look at him walking down the hall proves his popularity among his peers.

Most people would be surprised to find out that three years ago, Jones came to his neighborhood school from the elite Urban Prep Charter Academy for Young Men.

As the debate over the value of neighborhood schools versus charter schools rages on, charter critics allege that students are pushed out for various reasons, using neighborhood schools as “dumping grounds.”

“I worry that the charter schools want to sort of ‘skim the cream’ of those students and families that are most ready to take advantage of it,” said John Kuijper, an English teacher at Bronzeville Institute. “Then public schools get the rest, and I think that’s really unfair.”

As one of Jones’ teachers at the small neighborhood school, Kuijper said the average person would assume his student had behavioral and academic problems and was kicked out of Urban Prep. While charter school proponents would guess that’s what caused his supposed dismissal from Urban Prep, fans of neighborhood schools would presume the school pushed him out because of that.

But Jones can set the record straight.

“Urban Prep didn’t push me out at all,” said Jones.

In fact, data collected by the Chicago Public Schools give no indication that the city’s charter schools are winnowing out low performing students in order to boost their overall test scores.

Investigating the Myth

Last year, Catalyst Chicago magazine, which specializes in covering CPS, reported Illinois State Board of Education statistics showing that about 10 percent of students who were enrolled in 2008 either transferred to another school or otherwise failed to return in the fall of 2009.

According to figures from the 2010 ISBE charter school annual report that number has slightly increased to more than 11 percent.

Since traditional public schools fail to provide comparable statistics, it may be easy to assume that charter school students are pushed out. But in 2009, CPS performance management consultants Matthew Lyons and Alexis Gagne investigated that claim.

“The motivation was to examine whether or not there is evidence in Chicago to support the “common wisdom” about charter schools “creaming” the best students or “pushing out” the worst students,” Lyons said. “There is so much rhetoric surrounding charter schools, especially in Chicago, that we were skeptical about the body of evidence supporting the frequent claims about charters.”

In their analysis, which was solely based on CPS statistics, Lyons and Gagne found that students transfer out of charter schools at a slightly higher rate than they do traditional schools and that those transferring students are at a lower achievement level than their peers in both charter and traditional schools.

This result did not provide sufficient evidence to support the myth, Lyons said.

“This does not mean we should start our own myth about charters actually ‘creaming’ lower-achieving students,” he said. “But it does shed doubt on the common belief about charters cherry-picking certain students. Low achievers are more likely to transfer schools, period.”

Lyons said the research results don’t provide definitive answers on either side, and he warns people against generalizing about charter schools across the board.

“Does skimming or pushing-out exist in charter schools? I don’t know but it probably does somewhere,” he said. “But those instances shouldn’t indict all charters just like stereotypes about some teachers shouldn’t indict the teaching profession.”

Charter school administrators say they resent the generalizations and feel the negative rhetoric takes away from the successes of the students and staff.

“Just like you can’t say neighborhood schools do ‘X’ you can’t say charter schools do ‘Y,’” said Tim King, founder of Urban Prep. “There may be charter schools that push kids out, there may be neighborhood schools that push kids out, or never expel students.”

For the second consecutive year, King’s school reported that 100 percent of its graduating students have been accepted to four-year universities and colleges. Critics say that these numbers are skewed and that Urban Prep gets rid of low-achieving students early in order to report such success. King said that claim is absurd.

“I have never represented to anyone that every student who starts at Urban Prep is going to finish at Urban Prep,” he said.

King said most students transfer out because they are moving out of the district, and admits that nine students were expelled this school year for very serious offenses. But he maintains that his school does all that it can to retain students.

“We work diligently not to expel students,” he said. “We actually do the opposite of what some people perceive.”

Discipline Differences

Although he said it wasn’t his main reason for leaving, Jones pointed to the disciplinary code as probably a major factor in students’ leaving charter schools.

“Preparing me for the real world and just being hard are two different things,” he said. “[There’s] only so much a child will take.”

Many charter schools stress the importance of discipline and order, implementing standards stricter than those outlined in the CPS Code of Conduct. But administrators say they are under the assumption that parents and students are aware of what they’re signing up for.

“We endeavor that before kids have started school they are familiar with the qualifications,” said Pablo Sierra, principal of Pritzker College Prep, a campus of the Noble Network of Charter Schools. “We’re pretty certain that kids know what they’re there for: high expectations in both academics and behavior.”

At Noble and other charter schools, students and parents sign a contract adhering to the school’s requirements. This can range from a minimum of mandatory meetings with parents to behavioral codes for students.

King says the CPS Office of New Schools requires an outline of a school’s disciplinary code upon its proposal for a charter, making criticism irrelevant after the school has been approved.

“Once you approve the charter to operate under these standards it makes no sense to criticize after the fact,” he said.

But Kuijper of Bronzeville said the disciplinary code doesn’t develop teachers adequately nor require them to connect with their students. After teaching at a Noble Street campus himself, he said being in a neighborhood school has improved his teaching skills.

“Working in a real public school where I have to respond to that kid and I can’t just give them a Saturday detention, has made me a better teacher,” he said. “It has taught me to be more effective with them and their learning needs rather than just like kicking them out of class and hopefully [saying] ‘Good luck to you kid.’ That’s not what the public schools should be about.”

Sierra said the main problem is the difference in what schools will tolerate. Traditional schools should demand similar expectations as their charter counterparts so that students can’t run away from the rules, he said.

“Kids shouldn’t be able to fail multiple classes, cut classes or not hand in homework and still be promoted,” Sierra said.

As for Darrius Jones, he expresses no ill feelings toward Urban Prep and his old classmates. Next year, he is headed to University of Wisconsin-Madison on a full scholarship. He said his formula for success has little to do with attending a charter school or neighborhood school.

“If you do what you’re supposed to do in school, get your work done, listen to your parents, and do what you need to do to stay on the right track then going to college isn’t really hard.”