Teach For America’s Role In the Chicago Charter School Movement

Chicago Executive Director Josh Anderson sheds light on misconceptions.

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

This week, a blog post on Teach For America’s role in the Chicago charter school movement began making its way around the internet. The write-up centered on information presented to the Teach For America-Chicago Board of Directors this past January—a rough and outdated projection of the number of high-quality public charter school seats that might become available for Chicago kids over the next five years, assuming a rate of growth consistent with the past few years. While the suggestion of a “leaked document” implies all sorts of intrigue, the post also offers an important opportunity to provide some clarity on our organization’s role in this important, complex aspect of our larger day-to-day work.

If there’s an exposé to be written here it’s this: Teach For America is pro-great schools. In 2012, just over half of elementary students in Chicago’s public schools met the state’s bar for proficiency. And yet, across the city, individual classrooms and even entire schools are making real progress. As believers in the power of public education, when we see these kinds of settings, we hope they’ll grow—that, through them, more kids will get the kinds of opportunities every single kid deserves. In Chicago, that group of great schools includes a number of charter schools—places like the Noble Network. In 2012, Noble had nine campuses on Chicago’s top ten list of highest-performing, non-selective public high schools.
 
And while we hope that there will be more great schools, our role in the factors that actually determine if a school or network can grow (or not) is quite limited. We have no direct control over things ranging from, first and foremost, parent demand, to things like authorization, building space, sustainable public funding, and private capital. Where we do have a role is in providing one source of educators for these schools. It is certainly true that our corps members and alumni teachers are seen as an important source of talented educators for all charter schools and all school types (across the country, more corps members work in district schools than in charters), and that our alumni serve as school leaders on several high-performing campuses.
 
I will continue to be proud of our work to meet the hiring needs of our charter school partners as long as quality remains central to the model. Here in Chicago, no child ends up in a charter school unless his/her parent chooses it. The families of 60,000 students in our city have done just that. If these schools don’t live up to the promises they’ve made to those families or show progress towards getting there, they should be closed.
 
We’re committed to helping schools, not matter their model, be great. We’re as inspired by our many teachers at schools like Noble as we are of those empowering their students at Herzl, Talman, Chavez, Ada S. McKinley, and so many others. These teachers aren’t perfect—nor are the schools they work in—but, together with teachers of all preparation backgrounds, they’re showing us that real progress is possible.