- Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop - http://www.newstips.org -

Charter waiting list inflation

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The Chicago Tribune isn’t going to admit error [2] with their claim that 19,000 students are languishing on charter school waiting lists, “yearning” to be free of CPS. But they may not throw the number around with the same panache after WBEZ’s expose [3].

As Becky Vevea showed, the 19,000 number counts applications, not students — and students typically apply for multiple schools — and it also includes over 3,0000 students who’ve dropped out and are seeking admission to alternative schools.

The Tribune now cites Andrew Broy of the Illinois Charter Schools for the “estimate” (though as Michael Miner points out [4], they claimed the number as fact in their editorials) , and Broy has regrouped quite nicely.

Wednesday he was saying [3] the real number was probably “around 65 percent” of 19,000, based on his own “spot checks.” Thursday he insisted [2] that 19,000 is a “conservative estimate” — the real number probably higher than that, he now says — since it excludes non-reporting charters and new charters that are just ramping up.

But if families are applying to charters at the same rate they’re applying to selective enrollment and magnet schools — admittedly a big “if,” but they would be if there were such a “yearning” out there — the number of actual students waiting for places is probably closer to 4,000. Vevea’s numbers suggest that for CPS schools requiring applications, there are about four applications from every student.

The number only matters to charter proponents because it’s the only argument they have left, points out Julie Woestehoff of Parents United for Reponsible Education [5].

They used to say that charter schools were needed because students performed better there, she said.  Then research started coming in, and it consistently debunked that claim.  The only argument left was the popular demand for charters supposedly demonstrated by waiting lists.

“The Tribune hit those numbers very hard, as if they’re scientific numbers and they prove the need for more charters,” said Woestehoff.  “It’s like everything else in the corporate reform movement — the numbers are not real. They’re imaginary numbers. And the whole argument falls apart when you scrutinize it.”

In 2008, PURE’s report on charter accountability [6] — in which two-thirds of the city’s charter schools and networks ignored a letter from the attorney general saying they had to respond to the group’s FOIA request — showed that many charters “do not have waiting lists” and “some struggle to keep up their enrollment.”

In fact, as WBEZ reports, CPS says there are currently 3,000 to 5,000 open places in charter schools, and during  last year’s strike, charter groups said a third of the city’s charters had seats available.

What’s most remarkable, as Miner [7] and Steve Rhodes [8] point out, is that while charters could claim 16,000 applications, and maybe more, selective enrollment and magnet schools together boast over 99,000 applications.

What that shows is the opposite of what the Tribune wishes the numbers showed, Woestehoff said: “People really want their kids in public schools, and they’re not very interested in charters.”