Parents: Charter or neighborhood school? Time to make a choice - FOX 32 News Chicago

Parents: Charter or neighborhood school? Time to make a choice

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Chicagoans who don't want to send their kids to the public school dictated by their address, should head to Soldier Field Saturday for the 6th annual New Schools Expo.

While everybody else is debating the pros and cons of charter schools, thousands of parents have to make a choice now.

Thousands of people are headed to Soldier Field Saturday. No, the Bears aren't playing, but this crowd is looking for a win in life.

The 6th annual New Schools Expo features mainly charter schools. Compared to traditional CPS schools in many neighborhoods, charters claim to be a better choice.

Johnson College Prep, named after the founders of Ebony magazine is in Englewood. Open just three years, there is no senior class yet, but the data so far is promising

"I would say that in comparison to other neighborhood schools, our students at the end of freshman year have an ACT score that's higher than graduating seniors," said Garland Thomas, Principal of Johnson College Prep.

Like all charter schools, it's free. There's no testing to get in. It's operated by private non-profits also free to design curriculum, school hours and non-union staff.

There are about a hundred charter schools in the CPS system now. Not all of them have superstar track records. Nearly all of them are in poor African-American neighborhoods, a policy the teachers union says amounts to educational apartheid.

"In fact, the public schools, rather than being supported and made better, are closed to make room for charters. And what we're saying is this amounts to experimentation on other peoples' children," said Jesse Sharkey, Vice President of the Chicago Teachers Union.

Charter supporters say it is simply a matter of taking school choice where the need is greatest.

"If it's happening more for African-American students, then maybe that's a message about what's happening in the communities that they're leaving in search of better schools for their children," Thomas said.

Angela Dade, the parent of a Johnson College prep student, says safety was a major concern when choosing a school for her son.

"The choices for the neighborhood schools weren't very good, there were a lot of gangs there, his safety was an issue for me, and I didn't believe that he would learn from that environment," Dade said. "So I wanted a better choice where he could learn and be able to thrive, and this was one of the schools that he, we were able to get into and he has thrived very much so, where his GPA is over 4.0."

Dade's son is in the founding class of Johnson Prep. She volunteers there regularly and is just the kind of engaged parent critics say neighborhood schools are losing to charters.

"I'm seeing leadership in him, I'm seeing discipline in him, where he comes home from school, wants to do his homework immediately, and he sits there until it's all done," Dade said.

"Some of the main architects of public schools in Chicago, have talked about a third of the schools being charter schools," Sharkey said. "Well how are they governed? You know? What is the impact on the rest of the schools."

But for most parents, that is not the question.

Dade says she doesn't worry about whether or not her son could have been a good addition to one of the neighborhood schools.

"I do not, because I feel like this was his destiny," Dade said.

Parents are excited by stats like this: among all CPS high schools that don't test to get in, nine of the top ten on ACT scoring are charters.

But a recent study funded by the union found elementary school reading scores were lower at charters.

"All the research says that charter schools perform no better, and in many cases perform worse, than the analogous public school," Sharkey said.

"Hands down, charter schools are outperforming, and among the top of all non-selective CPS high schools," said Phyllis Locket, President and CEO of New Schools for Chicago. "When we've got over 100,000 students that are in failing schools in our city, we need more options and more choices."

Aside from the dueling data, there's no arguing the demand for better schools.

Pre-registration for this weekend's expo is breaking records and, at proven charters, waiting lists are growing. Students and parents who get no guarantees, but just want a chance at something exceptional.

The Expo runs Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Soldier Field, indoors. You can find out all about various options for your child, and you can apply right there on the spot.

For details on the new schools expo, visit

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