Changing the conversation

recent report by the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity at the University of Minnesota Law School asserts that charter schools lag behind comparable neighborhood schools in producing students who meet or exceed state standards in reading and math. The report recommends a three-year moratorium on new charter schools and other actions that would make it harder to open charter schools in the future. I want to offer an alternative view on charter school performance and how to improve our city’s public education system.

First, let’s set the record straight. The report—which was significantly funded by the Chicago Teachers Union—is misleading in how it describes charter school performance. Specifically, this report only assessed charter schools in the aggregate. Many of Chicago’s best open enrollment public schools are charter schools. For example, according to Chicago Public Schools, the top 12 performing open enrollment public high schools in 2014 on the ACT, which measures college readiness, are charter schools. And success on the ACT is translating to higher rates of college enrollment. For students who graduated from those schools in 2013, 79 percent enrolled in college the following fall, compared with an average of 50 percent from other open enrollment schools. Rather than criticizing charters, we should replicate the models that work and either fix or shut down the ones that don’t.

But here is the bigger point. We need to change the conversation. Our city’s focus on charter schools versus neighborhood schools has diverted our attention from what really matters—great schools versus bad schools. We are facing an education crisis in this city. Yes, we are making progress, but we are far from having the world class education system that our students absolutely need and deserve. In this environment, we need to be doing everything we possibly can to create more great schools, regardless of what they are called. All viable options for creating great outcomes for Chicago students should be on the table. We don’t need more ideology debates. We need results.

There is no silver bullet for creating more high-performing schools. We need a multipronged approach that harnesses our most effective and innovative solutions. There is proof that charter schools can deliver great results for Chicago students. There is proof that neighborhood schools can do the same. One example is the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program, a rigorous academic curriculum being implemented in 22 CPS neighborhood high schools. A 2012 report by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research found that IBDP students from CPS neighborhood high schools are 40 percent more likely to attend a four-year college and 50 percent more likely to attend a more selective college than comparable students.

Finally, nonprofit programs can play a powerful role in accelerating the progress we all want to see by supporting students inside and outside the classroom. They need to be part of the solution.

Chicagoans are passionate about improving our city’s schools. But we need to channel that passion in a way that delivers results. Let’s move past the ideology and focus on creating more great schools, regardless of what their stripes might be.

Liam Krehbiel is founder and CEO of A Better Chicago, a venture philanthropy fund that supports nonprofits. He is a board member of the Noble Network of Charter Schools, the Big Shoulders Fund and the Chicago Public Library Foundation.

This op-ed was originally posted at Crain's Chicago Business.