Gregory Kane: Charter schools don't work? Results say differently 

There's bad news on the charter school front. All 107 seniors at Chicago's Urban Prep Charter Academy have been accepted to college.

That's only bad news for opponents of charter schools who've been railing against them for years, claiming that such schools "don't work."

In mid-May, I attended a symposium sponsored by the Institute for Advanced Journalism Studies, which is located on the campus of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University in Greensboro. The subject was the racial achievement gap in education and what can be done to eliminate it.

(Full disclosure: I'm a fellow at the institute, which has sent me on several assignments over the years. The most recent: a visit to Canada in mid-March to investigate and write about Toronto's achievement gap.)

Attending the symposium were Mary Frances Berry, former head of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, former National Association for the Advancement of Colored People President Kweisi Mfume and National Action Network chief Al Sharpton, among others. Even after IFAJS founder and Director DeWayne Wickham urged those attending to "think outside the box" when it came to solutions to close the achievement gap, I still heard the same refrain:

Charter schools don't work.

The implication is that because charter schools don't work, then we shouldn't have them. What the charter school bashers don't realize is that if this logic applies to charter schools, then it applies to failing public schools that aren't charter schools as well. They clearly aren't working; that's why proponents of charter schools support charter schools in the first place.

It would be more accurate to say "not all charter schools work." Chicago's Urban Prep Charter Academy is clearly one that does.

Its students have eight-hour school days, not six-hour days. They wear uniforms that consist of tan slacks, white shirts, red ties and dark blue blazers. When a senior is accepted to college, he then sports a tie that's red with gold stripes.

And that "he" is, in this case, gender-specific: The Urban Prep Charter Academy is all-male. Students are selected by lottery and most of them are black, reflecting the Chicago neighborhood where the school is located. When Tim King founded the school in 2006, news reports say, only 4 percent of the current graduating class was able to read at grade level.

Chicago's Urban Prep Charter Academy isn't just working, it's absolutely rocking. Geoffrey Canada's Promise Academy charter school in Harlem isn't doing too badly either.

Canada is the guy who started the Harlem Children's Zone as a way to combat poverty and poor education. Promise Academy is the middle school in the HCZ. According to several news reports, students there have shown fantastic gains. One study showed that the achievement gap in math separating Promise Academy's students and white students in New York has been eliminated.

Lesser known than Canada's Promise Academy or Chicago's Urban Prep Charter Academy is Baltimore's KIPP Ujima Village Academy, a charter school for students in grades five through eight. In the 2008-2009 school year, KIPP had 343 students: 334 black, three white, three Asian, two Hispanic and one American Indian.

It's a predominantly black school in a poor, crime-ridden section of Baltimore. But in 2009, 78.6 percent of KIPP's students scored at the advanced or proficient level in math on state assessments. That compares to 63.5 percent for Baltimore City and 77.9 percent for the state. (In reading, 83.2 percent of KIPP's students were advanced or proficient, compared to 72.4 percent for the city and 84.4 percent for the state.)

When will critics of charter schools just be honest and admit that they just don't want them to work?

Examiner Columnist Gregory Kane is a Pulitzer-nominated news and opinion journalist who has covered people and politics from Baltimore to the Sudan.


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Gregory Kane


Examiner columnist Gregory Kane is an award-winning journalist who lives in Baltimore.

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