Charter schools are becoming a much more widely accepted alternative to traditional public schools for parents and children across the nation.
What are Charter Schools?
According to NEA.org, charter schools are privately managed, taxpayer-funded schools exempted from some rules applicable to all other taxpayer-funded schools. They were initially offered so public education could be offered with an increased ability for flexibility and innovation.
The first charter school in the US opened in 1992 in the state of Minnesota.
Pbs.org defined charter schools as follows:
“A charter school is an independent public school that operates independently of the board of education. In effect, a charter school is a one-school public school district. A group of people – educators, parents, community leaders, educational entrepreneurs or others – write the charter plan describing the school’s guiding principles, governance structure, and applicable accountability measures. If the state approves the charter, the state funds the charter on a per pupil basis. In most cases charter schools operated under a clear agreement between the state and the school: increased autonomy in exchange for increased accountability. Because they are schools of choice, they are held to the highest level of accountability – consumer demand.”
In fact, this increased autonomy afforded to charter schools is often credited as one of the most important factors in choosing to send a child to a charter school as opposed to a traditional public school. Charter schools are often able to work around typical bureaucratic processes and regulations. Since the school doesn’t have to spend time dealing with “red tape” they are able to focus solely on excellence and setting higher goals and expectations for the students attending that charter school.
What is Public Charter School?
Public charter schools are basically public schools that place an emphasis on a certain subject matter, such as languages, math, science, music, or more. Public charter schools do not charge students tuition. Many charter schools do require a higher level of interaction and involvement from parents in the form of volunteer hours or participation in parent teacher groups.
What is a Charter High School?
Charter high schools focus on helping students prepare for a certain career path. Also called magnet schools, these schools offer general curriculum in addition to focused specific classes that help students prepare for their chosen career. Medical, Veterinary, Culinary, and Engineering are a few examples of charter high schools.
What to look for in a charter school:
According to NEA.org, there are four key factors that a strong charter school should possess:
The school should nurture enthusiastic, confident learners. Teachers should be experienced and caring and the curriculum should be rich and engaging.
All students’ needs should be met, even if they have special needs or have English as their second language. Students, teachers, and parents are all held to a high level of expectations. Expectations and consequences are openly communicated and fair. Charter schools must enroll students regardless of their socio-economic status. Charter schools should never “screen out” potential students.
A strong charter school should be fully accountable to the community they serve. Charter schools should be monitored by their governing bodies. Charter schools must meet or exceed the same performance goals as traditional taxpayer funded schools. If the charter school doesn’t meet those standards, they are held to the same consequences as other public schools. Audit results must be posted annually for the public to access.
Just like any other traditional school, charter schools should be governed by a board and comply with open meeting laws that include parents. Charter schools are required to disclose when they receive charitable donations, including the amount and duration of the donation. If a charter school closes, the property where the school was located would be given to the local school district.
How to Enroll in a Charter School:
Although charter schools are public schools, they often require a separate application for enrollment, and depending on the size and focus of the charter school, admission may be limited depending on the popularity of the charter. The charter would not be allowed to turn anyone away that could attend any other public school, but it can limit admission due to size constraints. Most public school systems will have information about the charter schools in their districts and can direct parents in the right direction for matching their child’s needs to the most appropriate charter program.
What are some Benefits of Charter Schools:
- Charter schools tend to be smaller than other public schools, so teachers can monitor each student’s progress more closely and respond as needed
- Charter schools often feature more character development opportunities to build upon the foundation parents begin at home
- Charter students not only participate in normal curriculum, they often have a chance to study at an advanced level, or in a specific subject area, such as technology or the arts
The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools states that charters give students a better opportunity to excel at a high level, they also assert that charter schools are among the top performing schools in the country and that they serve in rising the expectations of what parents should expect from public schools. Additionally, the Alliance reports that students that have attended a charter school are being accepted to colleges and universities at a higher rate than those who attended a typical public school.
What Are Common Traits Among Charter Schools:
- They are generally smaller, so teachers can spend more one-on-one time with students
- They often have higher expectations than a general public school
- They foster a sense of community and collaboration between the faculty and teachers, parents and students
- Decisions and policies focus on the students and their ability to learn, learning plans can be adjusted quickly based upon the student’s needs and achievements.
What Are Drawbacks to Charter Schools:
Opponents of charter schools say that there is a downside to the existence of public schools. As reported on ecs.org, some of these arguments include:
- Charter schools can be owned and operated by for-profit organizations, which makes them vulnerable to forces outside the realm of education and could lead to early closures
- Charter schools aren’t always properly equipped to sufficiently accommodate children with either advanced learning capabilities or learning disabilities as well as those students who speak English as a second language
- Measurement of student progress can be difficult to gauge and compare due to varying and conflicting requirements and guidelines based on the differences between school districts in different states and counties.
Since charter schools have a much higher level of autonomy than other public schools they are also able to implement stronger disciplinary practices and more stringent parent involvement requirements such as fulfillment of volunteer hours.
Each charter school in able to make up their own disciplinary standards rather than adhering to those of the local school district. For example, failure to adhere to a particular dress code or displaying disrespectful behavior can lead to punishments such as suspensions.
Future Outlook for Charter School Students:
The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools recently released a new report which shared the results of an international study that measured the performance of students from four public charters in the United States to those in other developed countries. According to On Top of the World: Public Charter Schools and International Benchmarking, 2013-2014, the four charter schools that participated outperformed averages from across the United States, showing that the students from the charters are in fact prepared to compete globally in the areas of reading, math, and science.
Another study conducted by the Alliance and featured on their website, focused on charter schools and their effect on innovation and personalized learning. Breakthroughs in Time, Talent, and Technology: Next Generation Learning Models in Public Charter Schools, by Shonaka Ellison and Gillian Locke, illustrated three core concepts:
- Time, structuring the day around a pace more suited to the students they serve rather than a strict bell schedule
- Talent, hiring and cultivating teachers around their particular expertise, exploring innovative tutoring models, and utilizing master teachers
- Technology, incorporating digital self-paced learning with multiple ways for students to receive and understand new content
“These next generation learning models give us a window into how modern schools can provide a high-quality education for students,” said National Alliance President and CEO Nina Rees, “Public charter schools are paving the way on innovative models that will better prepare our students for college and life. We urge policymakers across the country to heed our recommendations to expand these models into more schools.”
The results of these studies and others like it go a long way toward backing up the praises of charter school supporters.
Additionally, the Alliance disputed inaccurate claims about public charter schools in a report that pulled data from upwards of 37 sources. Separating Fact and Fiction: What You Need to Know about Charter Schools, refuted several myths and false claims and provided clarification on points of confusion. In part the report stated that:
- Charter schools are in fact public schools which are held to the same academic expectations and standards as any other public school
- Charter schools do in fact enroll more children of color and low-income families than “normal” public schools
- There is not a significant difference in the percentage of English students served between charter and traditional schools
- Public charter school students do better academically than their traditional school peers
As with any other parenting choice, the decision whether to enroll a child in a charter school or a traditional public school depends on the student and the family as well as what options are available where you live.
Charter schools can range from specializing in traditional academics like math and science to a broader range of interests including foreign language or the performance or visual arts. Talk to your child to determine if they have a particular affinity towards one subject matter or another.
Before enrolling a child into any school, traditional or charter, parents should seriously consider visiting the campus and meeting with administrators and teachers. Speaking to parents whose children are currently enrolled in the school can be an invaluable way to learn information about the school that you wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to hear. No one knows better what it is like to attend a school then someone who is already attending that school. Some schools even offer incoming students the option of shadowing an existing student.
If your child is gifted or has any other special needs make sure to discuss them with the charter school to ensure that they have the ability to accommodate your child’s needs in house or that they have a process for enlisting outside resources when necessary for students with needs that extend beyond the school’s normal range of services and programs.
Whether you decide to enroll your child in a traditional or charter school, always be mindful of their progress and never be afraid to re-evaluate the situation and change schools if the need arises. Above all else, students should feel safe, comfortable, and empowered in their learning environment. It is the job of the educators and parents to work together to ensure that the students are getting their very best chance at success and that they have access to the supplies and materials they need to succeed at learning and growing.