The hunt for a quality education has so many layers that one blog post will not be enough to explore them all. I came to understand this while looking for high school for my oldest child. In 2013, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) closed 50 schools primarily on the South and West Sides of the city, citing under-utilization or underperformance as the reasons. Meanwhile, there were only a few of high-performing, public magnet high schools on the South Side—Kenwood Academy, Gwendolyn Brooks and King College Prep to name a few. Options, especially high-quality ones, were very scarce. In order to attend these schools, you had to meet certain criteria, predominantly based on seventh-grade test scores and placement-test results. Those students that met the mark would then receive communication from the school to submit an application. But that still doesn’t guarantee them acceptance. This is how it normally goes: Seven-hundred parents attend an orientation for one of these magnet schools that they would love for their child to attend. During their little spiel, the principal says that the incoming freshmen class will have 350 students, but only 125 seats are available.
At that moment, the parents’ hearts sink—and they begin hoping and praying that their child would be the one to receive that “golden ticket.” Later on in March, April and May—much like “Match Day” for medical students—families all around the city begin receiving letters informing them of whether or not they were accepted into of these schools. For the ones that are accepted, their dreams of the future start to become more vivid. For those that weren’t so lucky, theirs becomes hazy. Now begins the scramble to find an alternative school that will work. And some parents never find that dream school, and end up having to settle for what seems to be the next best thing, or for what’s left—which may be a low-performing neighborhood school. Picking a school isn’t just about quality and performance, there are definitely other factors. Will my child be safe inside of and commuting to school every day? How far away is the school and can we afford daily transportation costs? Hell, will the school even be open next year? This is why I’m happy that charter schools came along—they provided options. And while some of them are performing the same or worse than the traditional neighborhood schools, there are also just as many that are serving our students extremely well!
Now we have over 30 charter high schools on the South Side for families to choose from—and students don’t have to test into them to be accepted. In some of the schools, the test scores are much higher than some of the traditional public neighborhood schools—and I would attribute that to the autonomy to shape their own academics. Also, most of the charter schools are focused on college preparation and acceptance. Urban Prep, an all-male charter school in Englewood, boasts a 100-percent college-acceptance rate for all of its graduating classes—which, to me, has challenged the other high schools to step their game up. My child attends Gary Comer College Prep and I couldn’t be happier with my choice. We are getting selective-enrollment quality at an open-enrollment public charter school. And while many people may have their opinions about charter schools, at least they’re providing alternatives in communities where options were once taken away.
Rebecca McCarter-Hall is a wife and mother of two active school-aged children. A few of her passions are advocating for equitable education for the children in her community and traveling—she represents Chicago wherever she goes. She also loves spending time with her family and friends.