IMO Study Shows Chicago Charter Schools Underperform their Traditional Counterparts

A new study by the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity (IMO) at the University of Minnesota Law School showed that charter schools in Chicago underperform comparable traditional public schools and are more highly segregated by race. The analysis used comprehensive data for Chicago schools in 2012-13 and controlled for the mix of students and other challenges faced by individual schools. The findings, consistent with previous IMO evaluations of charter schools in the Twin Cities using similar data and methods, showed that:

  • Reading and math pass rates in Chicago charters lagged behind those in traditional public schools by up to four percent. Reading and math growth rates in charters trailed traditional schools by roughly four percent. Charter school graduation rates lagged by even greater amounts. There were, for the most part, no statistically significant differences between charter and traditional schools in ACT test scores. The findings actually understate the performance gap. Because students self-select into the charter system, student performance should exceed what one sees in traditional schools, even if charters do no better at teaching their students.
  • Charters are much less likely to be racially or ethnically diverse. Only 7 percent of charters showed some degree of ethnic diversity—in the form of schools with mixed black and Latino student populations—compared to about 20 percent of traditional schools that showed either racial or ethnic diversity.
  • After controlling for school characteristics, Chicago School District selective schools and schools for gifted students outperform charter and traditional schools on most measures, while magnet school students perform much like their traditional school counterparts. All three school types are more likely to be racially diverse than charter and traditional schools.

"The question is whether charters are the best path available to find ways to better serve low-income students and students of color, given that this approach has failed to improve overall student performance by most measures and led to less racial and ethnic diversity in the city's schools," said Myron Orfield, director of the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity.

The study argues that these negative findings mean it's time to reevaluate where the Chicago school system is headed. It recommends that:

  • The Chicago Public School District institute a three-year moratorium on new charter schools and campuses and complete an impact study on how charter school policy has affected the district as a whole.
  • The State Charter School Commission be eliminated and policy and control decisions be returned to local authorities who are vested with the education of students in their jurisdiction.
  • The State remove the provision from the charter school law that exempts campus expansions from the charter school cap.
  • Measures be implemented to ensure that charter schools do not deepen racial segregation.
  • The training required of school board members be expanded to include research-based review of the potential effects of charters on segregation and student performance.
  • More detailed information and reporting requirements be required of charter applicants regarding their performance in existing schools.
  • Stricter reporting standards be instituted for charters, matching those for traditional schools.
  • Existing and proposed charters provide more detailed descriptions of the education practices or innovations they use to improve student performance.
  • Charters be required to document continuing success in order to keep their charter.

About the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity
Established in 1993 as the Institute on Race and Poverty, IMO investigates the ways that laws, policies and practices affect development patterns in U.S. metropolitan regions, with a particular focus on the growing social and economic disparities within these areas. Through research, communications, mapping, and legal advocacy, the Institute provides resources to policymakers, civil rights advocates, and the general public to address reform in taxation, land use, housing, metropolitan governance and education.

For more information about the report, contact Myron Orfield at (612) 625-7976 ( or Thomas Luce at (612) 625-5344 ( The report is available at:

"Charter Schools in Chicago: No Model for Education Reform" Cited by Media