Charter schools are growing in popularity as an alternative to traditional high school, but they are not without confusion and controversy. We’ll clear a few things up and answer the question, “What is a charter school?”
The Charter School Movement
The first charter school opened in 1991 in Minnesota, and since then, the movement— and it certainly has become a movement—has only continued to grow. Student enrollment in charter schools has increased by 62 percent in the past six years. With more charter schools becoming available, it’s increasingly important for parents to stay informed about the options their children have. Many parents and students, however, are still unfamiliar with or misinformed about charter schools.
What is a Charter School?
Here’s a clear and concise definition of charter schools from the National Charter Resource Center:
Charter schools are independently managed, publicly funded schools operating under a ‘charter’ or a contract between the school and the state or jurisdiction, allowing for significant autonomy and flexibility. This autonomy typically comes in the form of enhanced freedoms regarding budgeting, staffing, and curriculum, allowing charter schools to craft more innovative education models designed to prepare students for college and career success.
A charter school is typically governed by parents, educators, a community group, or a private organization rather than a school district. This means teachers, parents, and administrators are able to offer education programs and environments that align with the school’s mission and needs of its own students, rather than the needs of students across an entire school district.
Charter Schools Are Non-Discriminatory
All charter schools are public and therefore must be non-discriminatory in admissions. Students cannot be turned away based on the color of their skin, special needs, their parents employment or income, or any other discriminating factors. When more students attempt to enroll in a charter school than space allows, a blind lottery is used to select new students.
Do Charter Schools Take Away From Public Schools?
A common critique of charter schools is that they are taking money from traditional schools; however, this argument emphasizes the institution’s receipt of funds to educate students rather than students receiving funds for their education. States distribute money to schools on a per-pupil basis.
Think of it this way, a Los Angeles public school student is allocated a sum of money to pay their school to educate them. If the student does not feel they are receiving a quality education or have unique circumstances, they are entitled to take their money to another public school of their choice.
Different Types of Charter Schools
Charter schools come in a variety of forms, each being different unto themselves. Some charter schools operate just like traditional public schools, while may utilize unique course formats or class structures. Independent study is a common education model among charter schools (often utilized for credit recovery), and online education has seen growth in recent years.
Hybrid programs such as Opportunities For Learning also exist, allowing students to create a personalized education plan—combining small group classes, independent study, online classes, and experiential learning—that fits their unique learning styles.
We hope you found this information helpful. We’d like to leave you with a few summary bullet points that you can share with friends and family:
- All charter schools are free public schools
- All charter schools must be non-discriminatory in admission
- All charter schools are funded by the state or local school district in which they are authorized
- All charter schools must participate in state-mandated standardized testing
- Charter schools come in many different shapes and sizes