Ren-10 Rumblings: When Nothing But Real Charter Status Will Do

Two years ago, Chicago got its first KIPP schools, featuring a national middle school model that includes extended days and a highly ordered curriculum. A 2003 Catalyst article chronicled the arrival of the KIPP model to Chicago (National middle school model launches two ...).

But the experiment wouldn't last for long, at least for one of the schools. Today, a brief item in the Tribune reports what many insiders knew was coming for a long time --
-- That one of the two schools is closing. Chicago Youth Village Academy -- one of the schools in the Williams building that was so famously closed at the start of the whole Renaissance experiment -- is closing its doors (Contract school closing its doors).

Why couldn't this model, which has apparently flourished elsewhere in the nation, work here? The obvious reason is that this school didn't have charter status, but was instead pressured into becoming a "contract" school -- a local term of art that, unfortunate mob associations aside, basically means "school that wants to be a charter but there aren't enough charter slots under the cap."

This is an issue that I have covered before (Renaissance 2010, Round 2: The Sweet Sixteen, Charter School Shakeup), but its impact has never before been clearer.

And it's not a problem that is going to go away. Left unchanged, it could threaten the whole new school creation process in which the Board of Education has put so many of its eggs. Rather than push for an increase in the charter school cap (currently 30), the Board has been very reluctant to give out any of its remaining charters, even though they are popular, or perhaps even necessary, to some of the national models (KIPP, Big Picture, etc.).

Instead, the Board has encouraged schools to become contract or performance schools. And some are willing -- especially homegrown models. But others, often more experienced national models, are not willing to work without charter flexibility, and without them Chicago loses access to some of the nation's most interesting educational models.


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