About Charters

Myths & Facts

Myth: Charter schools "cherry pick" their students.

Fact: A 2009 Rand Corporation study, Achievement and Attainment in Chicago Charter Schools, found that "There is no indication that charters are "skimming the cream" of students from CPS: Prior achievement levels of students who leave CPS schools for charter schools are not substantially higher than the achievement levels of the peers they leave behind." Illinois charter schools are required by law to admit district students who apply on a first-come, first-served basis. The only priority is given to siblings of students already in the school. If there are too many applicants for available spots, the law requires the school to admit students by lottery.

Myth: Charter public schools don't produce better academic results than district-run schools.

Fact: While the national charter performance data varies by state, Illinois charter schools on average perform better than district-run public schools.

Statewide:

  • 74% of charter high schools exceeded comparison school performance on the 2014 ACT.
  • 66% of Illinois charter elementary schools exceeded comparison school performance in reading in 2014; 56% exceeded comparison schools in math.

Chicago

  • 14 of the top 15 non-selective high schools in the city in ACT growth performance are charter schools.
  • Charter public schools represent all 12 of the top 12 highest performing non-selective Chicago high schools on the 2014 ACT.
  • College enrollment rates for charter schools students are 20 percentage points higher than their peers at district-run schools (70% vs. 50%). College persistence rates are also higher (70% vs. 64%).

Myth: Charter school children come from more committed families, and that accounts for their improved academic results.

Fact: A 2009 Rand Corporation study, Achievement and Attainment in Chicago Charter Schools compares charter school students to those who applied to charter schools but were not admitted showing that charter schools alone make a big difference in student outcomes. Studies of New York and Chicago charter schools found a direct positive relationship between charter school attendance and academic performance—the longer a child is in a charter school, the better he or she does.

Myth: Charter schools are private schools.

Fact: By law, charter schools are publicly-funded, open enrollment, free public schools operated by non-profit organizations.

Myth: Charter schools are for-profit companies.

Fact: All charters, by law, must be governed by a non-profit board of directors. A charter school may choose to contract out the management of the school to another nonprofit or for-profit management company. Only 7% of schools contract with for-profit management companies, and these contracts must be reviewed by the charter school's authorizer.

Myth: Charter schools don't have to take special education students.

Fact: Like other district schools, charters must take any special education student who applies, on the same basis as other students. If a special education student applies to a charter, he or she will have the same chance to be selected in the lottery as any other student. In fact, charter schools serve a comparable number of special education students as district-run schools: 13% in charters and 14% in district-run schools statewide in 2014.

Myth: High teacher turnover at charter schools hurts students.

Fact: Some charters experience high teacher turnover, especially in their early years. But there is no indication that high turnover, even where it occurs, hurts students. Charters are designed to put students first, and that means attracting and retaining the very best teachers — and it means not retaining teachers who are not performing well, are not mission driven, or are not a good fit with the culture of the school.

Myth: Charter schools get rid of students they don't want.

Fact: Student attrition is generally high in urban areas, in both district-run schools and charter public schools. The vast majority of students who leave do so because their families move. By law, charter schools are open enrollment schools, and may not counsel students out based on student performance or behavior challenges.

Myth: Charter schools take in so much private funding, it doesn't matter that they are underfunded by the state.

Fact: Charter public schools have the same opportunity as district-run schools to raise funds to bring more resources to the public school arena. Many believe that charters can rely on alternative sources of funding to bridge the gap in funding from district-run schools, however charter schools are only able to close 40% of that gap on average. Despite the funding gap, however, all charters are required to have a strong plan for sustainability in order to be approved and many charter public schools have proven to be effective operators with fewer dollars per pupil than traditionally funded public schools.

Myth: Charter schools have luxurious, state-of-the-art facilities.

Fact: Finding an appropriate building is the biggest hurdle for a charter school. Schools occupy old school district buildings, unused private school buildings, converted industrial or commercial space, or new buildings they construct. Unlike district-run schools, Illinois' charter public schools do not receive nearly enough public funding for their school buildings or other capital improvements, creating an enormous fundraising burden.

Myth: Charters are used as a tool to gentrify neighborhoods.

Fact: Most Illinois charters are located in under resourced neighborhoods, and they serve mostly low-income, minority students. Statewide, 93% of charter school students are African American or Latino and 89% of charter public school students are low-income.

Myth: Charter schools are part of a scheme to privatize public education.

Fact: The charter law is designed to give communities the power to create public schools that serve their needs. Charter schools are privately operated, but they are not privately owned. The charter holder is always a non-profit organization, and the charter school is always a public school.