One day last month, an Evanston resident named Zoe Zolbrod came across an e-mail blast from the office of U.S. senator Mark Kirk with the headline, "9 of the top Ten High Schools in Chicago are Charter Schools."
Kirk's declaration took Zolbrod by surprise. "I don't pretend to be an expert," says Zolbrod, an editor at a publishing house. "But I do know that nine out of the top ten performing high schools in Chicago are definitely not charters."
In this case, you don't have to be an expert—you, like me, can just go to the website of the state board of education to see exactly which schools are doing how well in the great test-taking game.
It turns out that Zolbrod was right: nine out of the ten top-scoring high schools in Chicago are not charters.
In fact, if you use ACT scores as the measurement, as Senator Kirk did, you'll discover that none of the top ten public high schools in Chicago is a charter.
That's none—as in zero.
Now, before I go further, let me say this: I'm usually the last person in the world to start throwing test scores around. I don't think much of using a test to try to measure how schools, teachers, parents, and especially children are progressing.
But since Senator Kirk raised the subject . . .
The highest-ranking charter, Chicago Virtual, ranks 11th. Its average ACT score for the 2010 to 2011 school year was 20.1—well below the 29.2 average at Northside College Prep, which tops the list.
That's not all. It seems that only two of the top 20 are charters—Noble Street Charter also cracks the top 20 list with 19.9.
As a matter of fact, nine of the 13 charter high schools that reported ACT scores were below the system's 17.7 average.
In short, most regular high schools in Chicago—with their unionized teachers—are beating the charters, at least when it comes to ACT scores. But don't hold your breath waiting for Senator Kirk to send that out in an e-mail blast.