What difference does it make

Chicago has taken a layered approach to school autonomy. With the exception of charters and Renaissance schools, only a select group of top-performing schools, known as AMPS schools, have been granted freedom from red tape and extra leeway with spending. Schools at the bottom of the performance scale, however, have been reigned in financially and must seek approval for every financial and pedagogical decision they wish to make.

Little data exist to help judge the effectiveness of this strategy. About half of Renaissance schools have taken state tests only once; the rest have never taken them. AMPS schools started out at the top of the performance scale, and with only a year under their belts, are just beginning to leverage newfound freedoms.

Still, the district can point to charters as evidence that autonomy can make a difference. Yet demographic data shows district schools with autonomy generally enroll students who are better off.

Chart: Who attends autonomous schools?

Chart: A change in state tests, a jump in city scores

Charters, comparison schools gaining ground

Popular with parents, charter schools have multiplied under Renaissance 2010. State law caps Chicago charters at 30, but the district’s 27 licensed operators are currently running 47 schools. President Bush is asking Congress to allow districts to usurp state limits on charters in cases where they can replace chronically failing schools that are slated for “restructuring.”

Chicago charters enroll a higher share of African-American students compared to the district average, and while they are public schools, they do have an advantage in that students must apply to be admitted. That means charters tend to attract more motivated students, which has an impact on student performance.

Even so, charters are outperforming neighborhood schools where their students would likely have landed if the charter didn’t exist. Graduation rates were especially high and dropout rates especially low, according to a Catalyst Chicago analysis of 2006 performance data. Gains on the ISAT, however, were smaller in charters than they were in the comparison schools.

Charters at a glance

Chart: Charter vs. neighborhood ISAT scores

Charters v. comparison schools

Top-performing charters on ISAT

(% meeting/exceeding standards)

ISAT Comparison Difference
KIPP Ascend 74% 42%


Shabazz 78% 48% +30
LEARN 77% 47%


Locke 75% 47% +30
North Kenwood/Oakland 73% 50% +23
Out-performed by regular schools

(% meeting/exceeding standards)

ASPIRA-Haugan 60% 69% -9
CICS-Wrightwood 46% 54% -8
Galapagos 43% 44% -1

Graduation rates higher

All charter high schools graduated seniors in 2006 at a higher rate than their comparison schools. Chicago International-Longwood boosted its rate by 24 points since 2004. During the same time period, Young Women’s graduation rate fell 10 points.

Graduation Comparison Difference
CICS-Longwood 83% 46% +37
Perspectives 78% 48% +30
Noble Street 74% 51% +23
Young Women’s 67% 44% +23

Note: Catalyst Chicago used 2006 ISAT scores and high school performance data from the Consortium on Chicago School Research to update the district’s 2005 charter performance report. Each charter was compared to a weighted average score of the neighborhood schools that students most likely would have attended if charters did not exist.

Source: CPS Scorecards, Illinois School Report Cards, Consortium on Chicago School Research

Chart: Charters do better at cutting dropouts

WebExtra: Biggest gains by charters

Most autonomous schools go for flexible budget

Two years ago, CPS beckoned 84 high-performing schools to fly solo as AMPS schools, an acronym for Autonomous Management and Performance Schools. One of them, Brooks College Prep, lost the privilege after one year. Seven additional schools were invited into the fold in 2006.

At first, AMPS schools could pick and choose among 10 “autonomies,” though many were freedoms that schools already had access to. A year later, the district scaled back to three: to opt out of area management oversight; to take more control over their budgets; to get extra money to run their own new teacher induction program.

More than half of all AMPS schools have opted out of area oversight. Bell, Edgebrook and Rogers, all elementary schools, rejoined in fall 2006 after a year off. Nine other schools did just the opposite, dropping area oversight for the first time this year.

AMPS at a glance

Chart: AMPS autonomies

Top performers not automatically in AMPS

In 2006, there were 74 schools where 80 percent of students passed the ISAT, yet only 39 of those schools were rewarded with additional freedom under the AMPS program, raising questions about what eligibility criteria the district is using. This year, CPS plans to roll out a point-based system that will curb over-reliance on supervisors’ recommendation.

Three neighborhood elementary schools posted exceptionally high marks, but were not tapped for AMPS.

SCHOOL 2006 ISAT (% meet/exceed)
Oriole Park 94%
Sauganash 92%
Farnsworth 88%
Source: CPS Office of Autonomous Management and Performance Schools; CPS final ISAT scores

WebExtra: Schools showing the most, least progress

Several schools on probation made significant gains on the 2006 ISAT, but a few lost ground.

Biggest gains ISAT 2005 ISAT 2006 GAINS
Burke 19% 51% +32
Schiller 21% 52% +31
Cuffe 36% 65% +29
Biggest declines ISAT 2005 ISAT 2006 DECLINE
Dyett 25% 23% -2
Beethoven 56% 53% -3
Carver Primary 69% 65% -4

Chart: Few high scorers

WebExtra: Intervention light at most low-performing schools

WebExtra: Fresh start graduation and on-track rates

WebExtra: Union-led reforms yield mixed results

Scores went up between 2003 and 2005 at four of the ten schools originally partnered with the teachers union. Two of the ten have since closed. When a new leadership team took over the union in 2005, the program was renamed “Fresh Start” and gained more time and flexibility to fix problems. Elementary scores were up in 2006, though since tests were overhauled, there’s no way to know how much is due to union reform efforts. However, most high school performance markers slid.

ISAT Gains

(% meeting/exceeding standards)

2005 2006 Difference
Burke 19% 51% +32
Chalmers 23% 41% +18
Bass 23% 40% +17
Piccolo* 27% 45% +17
Hamline* 38% 48% +10
Attucks 30% 38% +8
*New to Fresh Start

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.