Seven Reasons to Choose Charter Schools
Charter schools are independently run educational institutions that are granted greater flexibility in their operations as compared to traditional public schools. The “charter” establishing them is a performance contract detailing the school’s mission, program, students served, performance goals, and methods of assessment. Many charters are completely independent, for-profit concerns while others are not-for-profit or sponsored by public school districts. Roughly 10% of Ohio’s charter schools are sponsored by public school districts.
Charter schools have been hailed as revolutionizing the landscape of public education. Supporters insist that charters provide choice for parents and students, improve academic outcomes, and reduce the cost of educating children. Proponents of charters invariably point out that there is far more accountability: when a charter school does not meet its performance goals, it is subject to being closed, whereas a public school can fail students and mismanage resources for an indefinite period before the government will step in to provide corrective oversight.
Opponents of charters point to the fact that charters unfairly take away funding from traditional public schools. This affects public schools negatively because while the traditional school no longer bears the cost of educating students, it still bears the fixed costs of maintaining a school such as staff, building, and maintenance etc. When it comes to student performance, studies have found mixed results. Some find that student performance is similar to or as worse as student performance at comparable public schools. Undoubtedly, there are pros and cons on both sides of the debate which likely to get more heated given the new educational leadership at the federal and states levels.
1.Public and Private Charter School Options
Are charter schools public or private? According to Emma Brown (2015), whether charters schools are public or private remains a matter of debate. Charter schools are publicly funded but run independently by nonprofits or for-profit companies (para. 3). The federal education department treats them as public schools. Critics of charters argue that these independently run institutions amount to a privatization of public schools because they are run by entities that do not answer to the public. Brown’s article also makes it clear that charters in some states are not subject to many of the rules that apply to government agencies, such as open meetings and public records laws. Advocates for charter schools, meanwhile, say that charter schools are “unequivocally public schools” because they are open to all children and don’t charge tuition. Whatever side one happens to support, one thing is clear: charter schools offer options in education.
2. Public School Systems Fail Too Many Children
The truth is that one-third of all students and one-half of all African-American and Latino students who enter our public school system do not graduate with their entering class. At the same time, the United States Department of Education reported that the high school graduation rate is at an all-time high at approximately 80 percent. Four out of five students are successful in studies completion and graduate within four years. However, while these statistics appear to be moving in a positive direction, they are overshadowed by the crisis that is sweeping the United States. While 80 percent of high school seniors receive a diploma, less than half of those are able to proficiently read or complete math problems. In other words, many of our country’s high school graduates are functionally illiterate as they possess diplomas attesting to their ability to read and compute when in fact, they have very little competence in the real world.
3. Equal Access to High-Quality Education
Unlike high performing private schools, charter public schools are theoretically open to all children and are tuition-free. Like traditional public schools, charter public schools cannot discriminate in their admissions or operations based on race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, gender, income level, disabling condition, proficiency in the English language, or athletic ability. They are often designed to serve low-income and/or at-risk students who are falling through the cracks of the traditional public school system. Charter schools are funded on a per-pupil basis with public dollars; many schools are also supported by generous businesses and foundations.
4. Freedom of Choice for Parents & Teachers
Charter public schools give parents and teachers the freedom to choose. Parents are able to make a choice about which school may be best for their child according to each school’s mission and/or student body. Also, charter schools can re-vitalize many experienced teachers who have been weighed down by the traditional public school system. In addition, there is a sense of ownership because they choose to be involved with the school. These choices are primarily based on educational reasons: high academic standards, small class size, innovative approaches, and educational philosophies in line with their own.
5. Focus on At-Risk Children
At least 40% of the students in half of the existing charter schools are considered at-risk, or previously dropped out. For example, the majority of Cleveland charter schools serve a significantly greater percentage of minority and low-income students, and many of these students have dropped out of traditional public schools.
6. Flexible Curriculum, Design, & Staffing
Charter public schools are operated independently from local school districts. They are free from regulations that dictate curriculum and design. Charter schools are mission-driven, created by innovators who have a vision and a commitment to a chosen purpose and philosophy. The creators of charter schools (parents, educators, and community leaders) select the school boards, rather than their being selected through a political process. They in turn are not bound by ineffective staff hiring and firing processes and therefore are able to assemble and retain top-tier staffs. Although charter public schools are deregulated and given much more autonomy than conventional public schools, they are, in return, held to a much higher level of accountability. If they are not responsive to accountability requirements from government agencies, they will be shut down.
7. Diverse Student Body
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES 1999-2000), 27.3% of the students in charter schools are African Americans, compared to 16.9% percent in traditional public schools; 20.8% percent are of Hispanic origin, compared to 14.9% in traditional public schools, and 2.3% are Native Americans, compared to 1.2% in traditional schools. A majority of all charter schools have a minority population of at least 41%.
Studies of the impact of charter schools show that they are making a meaningful difference for underserved kids in many of our nation’s cities. According to a recent article in USA Today, researchers at Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, or CREDO, released a report that looked at the impact of charter schools in 41 urban areas. The researchers used a rigorous research design that compared learning gains for students enrolled in charter schools to those of similar students in traditional public schools in their districts. The findings are good news for charter schools which have faced criticism from public school advocates: across the 41 cities studied, students in charter schools learned significantly more than their peers attending traditional public schools – 40 more days’ worth of learning in math, and 28 more in reading. Charter schools are providing choice of educational environment, opportunities to excel in a diverse environment, allowing teachers to be innovators, and giving credence to the idea that schools do not necessarily need more funding but administrators and teachers who are accountable to students, parents, and taxpayers.