Analysis: Lessons to Be Learned From Chicago’s Rising Graduation Rate
A remarkable development is taking place here in Chicago, but it seems to be going unnoticed by many, particularly in the city’s public charter schools.
Twenty years ago, the first charter schools in Chicago were established with the aim of improving the dismal state of the city’s public education system. At that time, only 52.4 percent of students attending public schools in Chicago were able to graduate high school by the age of 19.
There were doubts about whether charter schools could truly make a significant impact on the educational outcomes of students. However, the educators leading these new public schools firmly believed that every child deserved the opportunity to excel academically, not just a privileged few. They were determined to provide families in underserved communities throughout Chicago with access to high-quality schools that would adequately prepare their children for the future.
Almost two decades later, the charter school sector has achieved what many deemed unattainable, with more students graduating from charter high schools in Chicago than ever before.
Last month, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) published its 2017 graduation rates. The five-year graduation rate for charter high schools in Chicago increased by almost three percentage points, reaching an all-time high of 81.6 percent. This means that 81.6 percent of students who began high school five years ago successfully graduated. The district as a whole has also experienced improvements and currently has a graduation rate of 77.5 percent.
Charter high schools throughout Chicago have been focusing on improving graduation rates for years by employing additional counselors and providing supplemental support to students who are struggling during their high school years. In fact, over the course of the past 20 years, charter high school enrollment has grown to over 28,000 students, accounting for more than a quarter of the total enrollment in grades 9 through 12 in the city. Moreover, these charter schools have been able to send students to college at a rate that is 20 percent higher than other public high schools in Chicago.
Contrary to the belief that charter school success comes at the expense of traditional public schools, the evidence shows that all high schools ultimately benefit from these advancements.
Instead of fixating on the specific type of educational institutions that are serving our students, we should take solace in the fact that thousands of young adults are attending high-quality schools of any kind in a city that is effectively preparing them for the future.
Andrew Broy, the president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools and a former public school teacher and civil rights lawyer, shares this viewpoint.