At its core, the central question facing the Chicago Public Schools -- and schools nationwide -- is how to do what Urban Prep has done.
For two years in a row, the high school has sent 100 percent of its graduating class to a four-year college. These are students from the city's worst neighborhoods, virtually none of whom read at grade level when they enter ninth grade.
There are a lot of variables at play in the success of Urban Prep and other exceptional charter schools like it around the country, which have been replicated with mixed success as cities turn increasingly to charter schools for help. Students at Urban Prep wear uniforms, complete with jacket and tie. Every student has a mentor assigned from the staff, who has a school cell phone so that he's on call and available to youths 24 hours a day.
One more exceptional fact about Urban Prep: it's all-male. And incoming mayor Rahm Emanuel is hoping to spread the single-gender gospel to more public schools around the city.
"I do want to look at more gender-specific high schools -- all-male schools, all-female schools to focus [students] and make sure those kids are able to focus on their academic accomplishments so we can improve their graduation rates," Emanuel said at a question-and-answer forum with high schoolers at the University of Illinois at Chicago, according to WBEZ.
Emanuel also continued his push to expand the city's charter school program, saying that part of the reason for Chicago's steep population decline in recent years has been the lack of good public school options available to families in the city. He suggested that he would be opposed to a year-long moratorium on the opening of new charters, as the current interim CEO of Chicago Public Schools, Terry Mazany, has proposed.
“That model [of expanded charter schools] has to be replicated in other places to give parents of high-school bound kids the choice to go there,” Emanuel said, as the Chicago Sun-Times reports.
He also repeated his claim that, outside of selective-enrollment schools, the seven best-performing high schools in Chicago are all charters. He was criticized by Chicago Public School students and his opponents on the campaign trail for that assertion, and for his plan to expand charters and close some under-enrolled neighborhood schools. Many public school teachers and advocates say that more resources should go toward improving neighborhood schools, not creating more charters.
At the moment, only four public schools in the city are single-sex.