Charter School Hopefuls Cross Fingers

February 11, 2011  |  

(Chicago Tribune) — Friday looms large on Davetta Martin’s calendar.  It’s D-day for receiving acceptance letters from Chicago’s charter schools. And while the selection is based on a random lottery, the results are intensely personal for thousands of parents who learn this week whether their children can enroll in their preferred school. “I’m nervous, I’m biting my fingernails … and I’m sleeping about as well as can be expected,” said the single mother of three, ages 11 to 15, who lives in the Gresham neighborhood. “The stakes are very high.” In the quest to obtain the best possible education for their kids in the Chicago Public Schools, many families have pinned their hopes on a magnet school, but with 32,000 applications for 3,000 slots, they are seeking out charters as well. For the last few months, Martin has been shopping for education the way she shops for everything else — by doing her homework. The administrative assistant spent hours surfing websites and last month attended the New Schools Expo. The annual event featured more than 100 schools and attracted some 6,000 participants — evidence that many parents are dissatisfied with the status quo, say charter-school advocates. “People are frustrated and they should be,” said Phyllis Lockett, president of the Renaissance Schools Fund, a nonprofit group that supports charters, which are independently run and may have a more specific educational mission than traditional public schools. “This is not an easy system to navigate.” Critics have maintained that charters, which get government funding, take resources away from traditional schools. While seven of the top 10 nonselective city high schools are charters, as measured by the ACT average, many charter schools perform no better than their neighborhood counterparts.

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