What is a Charter School?

A charter school is a privately managed public school that is free from many of the rules and regulations imposed by state and local education and governmental agencies. In exchange for this freedom, charter schools are held accountable for student performance.

Who can apply to Charter Schools?

Since charter schools are public schools, all city students are eligible to attend charter schools. Enrollment in Chicago International Charter School is open to all students, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, or disability status. For more information or to download an application visit our applications page.

What is the Charter process?

A state legislature creates a charter law, which gives specific authorizers, such as public school districts and universities, the right to grant charters to foundations, community organizations, or other groups. The charter is a contract between the group that wants to operate a school and the authorizing organization; it details the school's mission, the student population the school will serve, and the ways the school will measure performance, among other things. Once a group earns a charter, that group can either manage its own school programs or contract with another organization to manage the school programs.

There are several similarities between a charter school and a traditional public school. Both are open to all students and funded by public dollars. As it does with failing traditional public schools, the city has the right to close a poorly performing charter school.

What are the benefits of Charters?

Charter schools offer many benefits to students, parents, teachers, and communities. At a charter school, decisions about how best to serve students aren't made at a district office; instead, those decisions are made in the school by teachers and administrators who know the student population they serve.

More Innovation

As charter schools are free to determine all aspects of their school program and are not tied to district frameworks, they often serve as incubators of innovation. Charter schools can adopt progressive curriculum standards and techniques in order to better engage their students. They can embrace a new type of learning technology or a revolutionary way of teaching a subject. As a result, charter schools have pioneered practices now widely used today. The decision to lengthen the school day and year, to evaluate teacher effectiveness by examining student performance over time, and to reward teachers through referring to this performance, all first appeared in charter schools. This “best practice sharing” has enriched students and public school districts alike.

More Specialization

Charter schools can tailor their lessons and educational plans to their student’s needs. Curricula can be designed and adapted specifically for the students in the building. In order to execute this implementation effectively, the school must rely heavily on its educators. Teachers are empowered to design their own material. Provided with as much creative control as possible, teachers are better able to educate students with varying levels of ability, a process known as differentiated learning.

More Family and Community Engagement

Charter schools’ ability to innovate extends to their efforts beyond the classroom, and to their entire school community. Similar to what they do for their students, charter schools have proven to be committed to engaging parents and community members, often trying innovative strategies in order to succeed. They can provide “wrap around” services to families, utilize technology to understand each parent’s skill set, and include parents in the schools decision making processes by including them in focus groups and on the school’s board. In Illinois, 80% of public charter schools include parents, teachers, and community leaders on their board of directors. Furthermore, before a school even opens its doors, Illinois charters are required by law to “demonstrate a high level of local pupil, parental, community, business, and school personnel support” from the neighborhood where the new school is planned. These members can have a vital role in shaping the goals of the school from its inception and can continue to do so as the school serves its students. In addition, once the school is open, charter schools can engage their community by investing in their school buildings, spurring new jobs, and creating unique partnerships with local businesses.

More Choice

In addition to the advantages that they provide to students, charter schools provide an important benefit to school systems. Beyond spurring best practice sharing through embracing innovation, a charter school introduces choice into the school system. With school openings comes variety, as parents are given multiple options on where to send their children. The freedom to choose where to enroll creates competition. As a result, neighborhood schools are forced to provide a quality education for our children or risk parents and families electing to educate their children elsewhere. Thus, schools are inspired to improve their performance by trying innovative strategies and eliminating failing practices. Through their role as reformers, charter schools inspire traditional schools to reform as well.

More Accountability

According to Illinois State Law, charter schools are held to the same legal and academic standards as traditional schools. Additionally, charter schools are also held to unique financial and mission constraints: “Under Illinois Charter Law, a charter may be revoked or not renewed by its authorizer in cases where the charter school failed to comply with any of the requirements of Article 27A, or in the following specifically enumerated circumstances: (1) the charter committed a material violation of its charter agreement; (2) the charter failed to meet or make reasonable progress toward achievement of the goals and objectives set forth in its charter; (3) the charter failed to meet generally accepted standards of fiscal management; and/or (4) the charter violated any other provision of law from which it was not exempted. A charter school may also terminate operations by mutual agreement with the authorizer.”(2009-2010 and 2010-2011 Illinois Charter School Biennial Report).

In addition to these increased standards, a charter contract in Illinois must be renewed at maximum every five years. Thus, charter schools have constant motivation to improve or they risk their charter being revoked, and closing their doors. Stringent standards and frequent requirements to be renewed combine to make public charter schools more, not less, accountable than their traditional public school counterparts.

What is an SMO?

An SMO is a School Management Organization. An SMO creates and oversees charter schools, supervising all that occurs within school walls, from curriculum to culture. An SMO can operate schools by attaining its own charter or by partnering with organizations that have attained charters. When an SMO partners with an organization, the SMO monitors all day-to-day operations, and the organization monitors the SMO. Chicago International Charter School is proud to adopt a “portfolio model,” partnering with SMOs that align with CICS’s mission and vision. CICS provides academic autonomy to its SMOs in exchange for accountability.

Did you know?

  • The first charter school law passed in Minnesota in 1991.
  • The first charter schools in Illinois opened in 1997, including CICS.
  • Illinois law says that all charter schools must be non-religious, tuition-free, open to all students, and designed to serve a substantial portion of at-risk students.
  • Statewide, there are 124 charter schools in 13 districts operating more than 120 campuses. 11% of Chicago Public Schools students attend a charter school.
  • There are more than 50,000 charter school students in Illinois. 
  • Nationwide, there are 5,000 public charter schools open in 41 states and D.C., serving more than 1.6 million students.

Apply Now

Enrollment in Chicago International Charter School is open to all students, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, or disability status. For more information or to download an application visit our applications page.