SPRINGFIELD — A new study places Illinois’ public charter school efforts in the middle of the pack nationally.
The study, conducted and published by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS), measures the progress of the public charter school movement in the 26 states from which it has collected data.
Illinois finds itself directly in the middle, ranking 13 out of 26 and scoring 60 points out of a possible 116.
The annual study evaluates public charter school performance based on indicators including charter school facility growth, percentage of charter schools to traditional public schools, diversity of charter school enrollees and other factors. It also offers suggestions for how charter school growth can continue its upward trend in each state.
According to the numbers from NAPCS, Illinois scored well relative to other states in terms of new growth rate in 2013-2014 as well as academic performance within charter schools.
Fifty-seven new public charters opened last year in Illinois, a 9 percent growth rate from the previous year, according to the study, which also said that on average, public charter school students exhibited higher academic competency compared to their traditional public school counterparts.
The study also found Illinois ranked relatively low in total charter school facilities and attendance — 3 percent of the state’s public schools are charters and 3 percent of the state’s public school students attend charter schools.
One community in the state had more than 10 percent of its public school students attending charter schools last year.
“There are small proportions of public charter schools and public charter school students in Illinois,” the study says. “Such students are achieving better reading and math student outcomes when compared with their peers in traditional public schools.”
The NAPCS addressed public policy when it comes to charter schools, saying “We encourage the state to enact policies to increase the impact of such success, including lifting its caps on charter school growth and ensuring equitable operational funding and equitable access to capital funding and facilities.”
Lindsey Burke is an education policy fellow at the Heritage Foundation and said the increasing popularity of public charter schools is a good thing for educational improvement.
“Increasing charter school options and attendance growth benefits students and their families for a variety of reasons,” Burke said. “It provides an alternative option when the traditional school in a family’s district doesn’t perform well or doesn’t offer advanced opportunities for gifted students. It also creates competition amongst educational options, which makes everyone strive to perform at a higher level.”
While the total charter school student percentage is low at 3 percent, the Illinois Network of Charter Schools (INCS) notes that is a number on the rise, especially compared to Chicago Public Schools enrollment.
Jodie Cantrall is the communications manager for the Illinois Network of Charter Schools. She said progress for charter schools in Illinois is essential to ensuring successful educational experiences for the children in the state.
“It’s important that the trend of increased charter school accessibility continues,” Rogalski said. “Increasing school choice options gives more kids and their parents an avenue for success they might not have had otherwise.”
There is still room for improvement, Cantrall says, but the consistent rate of growth is a good thing.
“Each year there is more interest and applications to public charter schools across the state,” she said. “There is obviously a demand for this product and it’s vital that we continue the work necessary to meet that growing demand. This isn’t about an ‘us vs. them’ mentality, it’s about providing parents the power determine what the best fit is for their children.”
In 2004, 2.5 percent of public school students in Chicago attended charter schools. In 2014, that number has increased to 14.3 percent, according to the INCS.
Charter school campuses have increased by more than 90 since 2004.
The study found Illinois’ public charter schools are more diverse, enrolling 47 percent more students of a racial and ethnic minority when compared to traditional public schools.
As a suggestion for improvement, the NAPCS noted that Illinois has no virtual public charter schools – high school-educational equivalency available through online means – and that the state could benefit from pursuing that option as well.
Brady Cremeens is a reporter for the Illinois News Network.