Charter schools are tuition-free, publicly funded schools that have greater autonomy and are more independent than traditional public schools. In turn, they are held more accountable for meeting some other charter-related provisions and student achievement.
In general, charter schools are new schools that did not exist before their charters were granted. Traditional private or public schools can also change to the status of a charter school. The expression “charter school” is practically always used in relation to largely autonomous but government-funded schools in America.
In America, each state has laws that are dictating a wide range of activities and regulations relating to charter schools such as school funding and staff and student recruitment. Regulations may vary by state but there are a few generalizations. Charter schools, for example, are typically not constrained by requirements that count for common public schools like specific union and bureaucratic rules.
There are states that offer charter schools much flexibility and freedom regarding hiring non-state-certified teachers, adopting specific curricula, or setting up activities that are based on a school’s own specific standards. There are also charter schools that are allowed to develop their own specific calendars and decide on how long their school days will be.
The first American charter school was founded in 1992 in Minnesota after the state passed legislation in 1991 that enabled this development. By 1995, almost twenty states had adopted similar legislation and the movement of setting up charter schools experienced enormous growth ever since. Just look at how Epic Charter Schools has developed over the years! Amazing, isn’t it?
In the period 2003 to 2014, the charter school number in America doubled and had gone from almost 3,000 to a staggering 6,000 schools. In that same period, the student population enrolled in charter schools increased from just over 1.5 percent to more than 5 percent! Charter schools work with an open admission system and in case more students have applied than the schools can accommodate, the schools typically use a lottery system to select new students at random.
A charter school is functioning as a public school, so their operators will receive charters from various public organizations such as local or state school boards. A charter is actually a performance contract that establishes each school and contains provisions for the school’s curriculum, financial plans, and governance. The agencies that issue these charters are generally referred to as authorizers or sponsors that are holding the school accountable for the quality of education and its performance.
A charter is usually issued for a specified and limited term of operation, generally for a period of 3 to 5 years. Consequently, if a charter school fails to meet their charter’s provisions, the sponsor or authorizer may close the school down. In general, it is far easier for authorities to close down a charter school than to do the same with a traditional public school. At the same time, we’ve seen a tremendous increase in the number of parents that have chosen to homeschool their children. It remains to be seen if this development will serve future generations for the better.
Over the years, we’ve seen a huge variety when it comes to student achievements at charter schools. This wide variety in the performance and quality of charter schools may be explained by the fact that there is no uniform design and nationwide requirements for the numerous charter schools that are in operation.
On the other hand, competition from other charter schools and traditional public schools have forced the organizers and sponsors of charter schools to maintain a relatively high standard of accountability. Studies regarding the impact on student performance at an education at charter schools, however, have not given any conclusive results, so the added value of a charter school education remains the subject of many intense debates.
One of the main reasons for setting up the idea of charter schools was that many people wanted to realize alternative visions of schooling and education that was not possible in a traditional public school. The contemporary market-driven idea of competition and choice became a key element of the discussions regarding charter schools. Many charter schools are using innovative ways, like e-learning platforms, to support their students learning performances.
Advocates of the free-market principle were reasoning that a charter school would be stimulating a weaker public school to improve its performance or would altogether drive the school out of the education field through processes related to market-based performance and accountability. Charter schools would, so is the idea, encourage systemic improvement and change as they provide an educational choice which encourages competitive market developments and forces. Read also this post: “Is a charter school the right school for your child?”
However, a great number of critics of these developments argue that charter school could easily damage the public school system as they divert resources. Other critics claim that market-based ideas behind the concept of charter schools encourage them to get into practices and activities that are unproductive for or irrelevant to education. Quite a few charter schools, for example, are attracting students by offering gimmicks like free gift cards which enables the schools to demonstrate progress in the schools’ enrollment while fewer resources are put toward their students’performances and genuine learning.