Innovations In Education: Supporting Charter School Excellence Through Quality Authorizing
June 2007
Downloadable File PDF (2 MB)

Chicago Public Schools Office of New Schools

Authorizer Profile: Selected Characteristics (as of 2005–06 school year)

First year of operation Number of staff Total number of schools Number of students Total number of school closures
1997 27 27 15,310 3

Illinois State Charter Law: %2E+27A&ActID=1005 &ChapAct=105%26nbsp%3BILCS%26nbsp%3B5%2F&ChapterID=17&ChapterName=SCHOOLS&SectionID=17524 &SeqStar t=150000000&SeqEnd=151600000 &ActName=School+Code%2E

Somewhat unusual among public school districts, particularly large urban ones, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has truly embraced charter schools as an important option for its students. "When I talk to my colleagues in other cities, I'm not sure I have seen a situation where you have the city and the district embracing new schools in the way that we do," reflects Hosanna Mahaley Johnson. As the former chief of staff to CPS's chief executive officer, Mahaley Johnson oversaw the Office of New Schools, which deals with the city's charters.

Chicago has nearly reached the cap of 30 that was set by the state for the total number of charters it can authorize. But far from winding down, the CPS Office of New Schools is actually expanding. As part of the mayor's Renaissance 2010 initiative, the office is responsible for opening 100 new schools in Chicago by 2010. Given the state's cap, most of these will not be charters, but the district's charter experience has been a positive one, and the Renaissance 2010 effort builds on that experience in many ways, including in its commitment to accountability for the new schools.

All of Chicago's charter schools are held accountable for student performance based on a plan that includes several absolute performance indicators as well as a comparison of each school's performance to the schools in the neighborhoods where its students live. Schools also frequently exercise their option to propose unique learning standards. CPS staff proactively monitor compliance, but use a hands-off approach when schools are performing well. About 44 percent of Chicago's charter schools made AYP in 2004–05, compared to about 31 percent of all schools in Chicago. Although not all charters have met student performance targets, charters overall have been improving at a rate of 7 percent per year, while other CPS schools have been improving at a rate of 2 percent, according to Mahaley Johnson.

The commitment to accountability has been possible in part because of the strong support of Chicago's Mayor Richard Daley and the school district's CEO Arne Duncan. The mayor and CEO have stood by decisions made by the district regarding who gets a charter and who gets renewed, despite occasional political pressure to do otherwise. The mayor and CEO also have been strong recruiters for the district, actively encouraging community organizations and other groups to apply to open new schools.

Chicago's Office of New Schools recruits locally for potential new school operators and uses a strategic multistate recruitment process to attract operators with a proven record of success from all over the country. The office has stepped up its effort to recruit by visiting successful schools both in Chicago and around the country (e.g., North Star Academy in Newark, N.J.) and by putting out a request for proposals that invites operators of national school models to apply and offers approval (if qualified) for five years with the ability to open multiple campuses.

Despite support from the mayor, CPS leadership, and from strong business partnerships, the Office of New Schools faces significant teacher union opposition to charters and also has had to address some community resentment remaining in neighborhoods where schools have been recently closed for poor performance. The office has worked to improve overall community relations. It has created two new staff positions that are responsible for community relations. These staff members focus on analyzing school data and presenting it in easily digestible ways for the public.

For neighborhoods where new schools are being opened in buildings that experienced school closings, the district also created local Transition Advisory Councils (TACs), which consist of community members who apply to be part of the process. Members are usually parents, faith-based community leaders, business leaders from the community, and sometimes some of the teachers from the closed school. They meet regularly to discuss community needs for the new school, conduct community outreach activities, host public forums, and make recommendations to CPS. "We have a strong belief that if you want to change the school, you have to have buy-in from the people who live there," says Mahaley Johnson.

As the city has neared the limit of the state's cap on charter schools, one approach has been to replicate existing charter schools where possible. Those that opened before 2003 and that meet certain criteria are eligible to apply to open additional campuses that do not count against the cap on new charter schools.

Because of the combined pressure of the cap and the Renaissance 2010 initiative, the Office of New Schools has been undergoing a significant transition. Mahaley Johnson and Beatriz Rendon, executive director of the Department of New School Support, both joined the Office of New Schools in March 2005 at approximately the same time the first group of Renaissance 2010 schools were awarded. They revamped the office to improve communication with schools, to increase accountability oversight of schools, and to ramp up for opening so many new schools by 2010.

Also, with the charter cap almost filled, the office is in the process of developing other options for opening new schools. Because district leadership supports high-quality options and accountability, CPS has introduced a "contract school" process (the details of which are still under negotiation) for opening new schools and, in order to encourage more teacher-led groups to open new schools, a "performance school" option, which entails opening unionized schools with a five-year performance contract.

The details of these new options are still being worked out, but they are intended to build on the district's experience with charters and are being designed in part to work around the charter school cap. CPS stresses the importance of high achievement and meeting community needs, giving preference to schools that will be located in certain priority communities in Chicago.

"Renaissance 2010 was an evolution of the charters," Rendon says. Reflecting on the mix of charters and other new school options, she adds, "Even though there are these distinct types of schools, there are more similarities than there are differences because the common thread amongst all of them is that they have these accountability agreements and they all certainly have some level of need for support during incubation."

Mahaley Johnson also focused on improving the office's support for the charter schools and other new schools. She would like the office to be known for providing support that is, in her words, "world class." She added new staff positions; each of these staff members acts as the main point of contact for a set of schools and is responsible for contacting and visiting those schools regularly, as well as for answering their questions.

A longer-term goal is to learn from the charters and other new schools in ways that help improve achievement throughout the district. "One day we'd like to be known for the sharing of best practices," says Mahaley Johnson. "When 2010 is at its end, and we've opened 100 schools, we will be serving 17 percent of the students in the district. So, I'd like to see us as a catalyst. When we look at our data, we see that the growth of the charter schools is three times the district schools' growth. So, I want to know what they are doing and then share that with other schools, so that it isn't just a side initiative, but we're really trying to transform the district."

"We're not in it to say charters are better than non-charters," adds Rendon. "We're in it to say, why is it that our charters are so successful? Why is it that they're ranking in the top five of any given indicator? And how can we share those practices across the district to ensure that we have as many quality options as possible? . . . We really see this as the next chapter in urban education. It's not that it's the right solution for every school, but this definitely has to be part of our portfolio. The only way we can succeed is with proven results. Nobody can argue with results."

Signs of Success: Chicago Public Schools Office of New Schools
  • In the 2004–05 school year, 17 out of 19 of Chicago's charter schools that reported Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) reading scores had a higher percentage of students performing at the national average than similar schools in the same neighborhood as the charter schools.

  • In the 2004–05 school year, 18 out of 19 of Chicago's charter schools that reported ITBS math scores had a higher percentage of students performing at the national average than similar schools in the same neighborhood as the charter schools.

  • Chicago's charter schools and campuses outperformed their comparison neighborhood schools on 86 percent of student performance measures in the 2004–05 school year.

  • All eight of Chicago's charter high schools reported higher graduation rates than their comparison neighborhood schools in 2004–05.

  • Source: Chicago Public Schools Charter Schools Performance Report 2004–2005; Report.pdf [accessed on Feb. 19, 2007].

   25 | 26 | 27
Print this page Printable view Send this page Share this page
Last Modified: 05/26/2009