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Charter schools

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Education policy in the U.S.
Public education in the U.S.
School choice in the U.S.
Charter schools in the U.S.
Higher education in the U.S.
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Charter schools are public schools operated independently of the public school system, either by non-profit or for-profit organizations. Although they are publicly funded, except for their facilities, charter schools are exempt from many of the requirements imposed by state and local boards of education regarding hiring and curriculum. Charter schools came about in response to failing schools, as part of the school choice reform movement. This movement sought to offer parents more choice, and schools more freedom to innovate to meet students' needs, in exchange for greater accountability. Such schools often serve high-risk students by creating special programs tailored to their particular student populations. The concept of “charter” schools was first proposed in the 1970s by New England educator Ray Budde, who suggested that groups of teachers be given contracts or “charters” by their local school boards to explore new approaches. In the late 1980s, the idea attracted a small group of educators and policymakers, who together developed the charter school model. Minnesota was the first state to pass a charter school law in 1991, and opened the first charter school in 1992.[1]
This ground breaking Minnesota law allowed the formation of eight results-oriented, student-centered public schools.[2]

Minnesota Legislative Reference Library, (2014)[3]

In exchange for greater flexibility and exemption from many district and state regulations, charter schools have performance-based accountability standards. They can be set up by parents, community leaders, social entrepreneurs, businesses, teachers, school districts or municipalities. The first step is to apply to a state's chartering authority for a charter (a legal contract setting out the mission), guidelines on curriculum, management and standards to be met. Charter schools are typically reviewed every three to five years, and if they do not demonstrate performance in academic achievement, financial management and organizational stability, a charter can be revoked and the school closed. Since 1992, 1,036 charters schools have closed, or 15 percent of the approximately 6,700 charter schools that have ever opened across the United States, for such reasons.[4] Charter school laws differ from state to state, and the way those laws are written and implemented greatly affects charter schools' success.[5][6]

As public schools, charter schools cannot charge tuition or have special entrance requirements; students are usually admitted through a lottery process if demand exceeds the number of spaces in a school. According to the particular state law, charter schools receive a percentage of the per-pupil funds from the state and local districts for operational costs based on enrollment. In most states, they do not receive funds for facilities or start-up costs, and therefore must rely on private donations. The federal government provides revenues through special grants.[7][8][9]

State facts

See also: Charter school demographics

The following information was current as of the 2014-2015 school year:

Growth of charter schools

Since the first charter school, City Academy, opened in 1992 in Minnesota, there has been rapid growth in the enrollment of students and number and size of charter schools.[13] According to the U.S. Department of Education, in 2010-2011 there were 5,300 charter schools in the country. Between 1999 and 2011 there were many other changes regarding charter schools in the United States, including:

  • The number of students enrolled in public charter schools increased from 0.3 million to 1.8 million students.
  • The percentage of all public schools that were public charter schools increased from two to five percent.
  • The percentage of charter schools with enrollments under 300 students decreased from 77 percent in 1999-2000 to 59 percent.
  • The percentage of charter schools with enrollments of 300-499 students increased from 12 to 22 percent.
  • The percentage with 500-999 students increased from nine to 15 percent.
  • The percentage with 1,000 students or more increased from two to four percent.[14]

For the 2011-2012 school year, according to the National Charter School Study, it is estimated that there were over 6,000 charter schools serving about 2.3 million students, representing an 80 percent increase in the number of students enrolled in charter schools since 2009. According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools for the 2013-2014 school year there were 6,004 charter schools in the nation, or 6.3 percent of all public schools, and 2,280,627 students, or 4.6 percent of all public school students attended charter schools, with about 920,000 student names on their waiting lists. For the 2013-2014 school year they estimated there were 2,569,029 students attending 6,440 charter schools, for an increase of 12.6 percent in the number of students.[15][16]


National Assessment Governing Board

In December 2012, the National Assessment Governing Board published an analysis of charter school enrollments and student performance compared to that of public schools. Analyzing data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the report's authors found "a consistent pattern of higher average NAEP scores for regular public schools than for charters when we look at the nation as a whole." However, the authors noted that in large cities "student achievement is roughly even overall [between charter schools and traditional public schools], but the black and Hispanic subgroups show higher scores in charter schools."[17]

The following table summarizes key findings from the analysis. The full report can be accessed here.[17]

National NAEP achievement in charter and regular public schools
Grade National 2003 (grade 4) or 2005 average National 2011 Change between 2003 or 2005 and 2011
Charter average score Regular public average score Charter average score Regular public average score Charter school average change Regular public average change
Grade 4--Reading 212 217 218 220 6 3
Grade 8--Reading 255 260 261 264 6 4
Grade 4--Math 228 234 237 240 9 6
Grade 8--Math 268 278 281 283 13 5
Source: National Assessment Governing Board, "Who Attends Charter Schools and How Are Those Students Doing?," December 2012

National Charter School Study

Center for Research on Education Outcomes
Center for Research on Education Outcomes.jpg
Basic facts
Location:Stanford, California
Top official:Margaret Raymond
Year founded:1999
Website:Official website

The National Charter School Study released in June 2013 by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) provides an updated and expanded view of charter school performance in the United States. In the aggregate, both reading and math results in charter schools showed improvement. The analysis of the pooled 27 states showed that charter schools had advanced the learning gains of their students more than traditional public schools in reading. There was also improvement in the academic growth of charter students in math since 2009, to the extent that learning gains are now similar to those of students in traditional public schools. The CREDO report found that charter students perform somewhat better in reading and about the same in math as their district counterparts. CREDO attributed this remarkable shift both to improvement in existing charter schools, and to the fact that the poorest-performing charters are being systematically closed.

Here are some of the findings of the study that reflect an average of three growth periods (Spring 2008 to Spring 2011):[18]

  • The average charter school student now gains an additional eight days of learning each year in reading, compared to the loss of seven days reported in 2009.
  • In math, charter students in 2009 posted 22 fewer days of learning; now that gap is closed so their learning each year is on par with their peers in traditional public schools.
  • When the average growth is examined for different periods over time, the performance trend in both reading and math improves.
  • Learning gains in reading are more positive than in any earlier period, and significantly better than traditional public schools.
  • Average math learning in charter schools is no different on average than learning in traditional public schools.



Support for charter schools has risen steadily for many reasons, which include: higher standards for teachers and students, more personalized attention, a safer environment, more communication between teachers and parents, and greater accountability. In a poll by the Center for Education Reform, in which only 20 percent of respondents correctly identified charter schools as public schools, 78 percent of respondents said they supported “allowing communities to create new public schools — called charter schools — that would be held accountable for student results and would be required to meet the same academic standards/testing requirements as other public schools but not cost taxpayers additional money.” In addition, supporters cite a "ripple effect" from charters schools that leads to improvement in the traditional public schools which must compete to keep their students.[19]

Obama greets students from Waiting for Superman

In 2010, the documentary Waiting for "Superman" (Guggenheim, 2010) told the story of five children whose parents try to get them into local charter schools, bringing attention to the steep increase in demand for charter schools as an alternative to failing public schools. Two reformers featured in the film are Geoffrey Canada, the CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone, and Michelle Rhee, a former chancellor of the Washington, D.C. public school system. The film "undertakes an exhaustive review of public education, surveying 'drop-out factories' and 'academic sinkholes,' methodically dissecting the system and its seemingly intractable problems" and "offers hope by exploring innovative approaches taken by education reformers and charter schools."[20]

Charter schools have become politically popular, not only because they promise greater accountability and higher academic results for their often high-risk student populations, but also because charter schools cost less per pupil, saving taxpayer dollars. Funding varies by state and depends on many factors. In 2010-2011, on average, charter schools were funded at 61 percent of their district counterparts, averaging $6,585 per pupil compared to $10,771 per pupil at conventional district public schools. An April 2014 study called "Charter School Funding: Inequity Expands," by the University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform, tracked all the revenues committed to public charter and traditional public schools from every source, public and private, and found a funding gap of 28.4 percent. This means that the average public charter school student in the U.S. receives $3,814 less in funding than the average traditional public school student.[21][22]


Despite the popularity and rapid growth of the charter school movement, some groups oppose charter schools because results in terms of academic achievement have been mixed. In the 2013 Center for Research on Education Outcomes study, researchers investigated the effect of charter schools on student performance and concluded that the growth or improvement of individual students within every student subgroup ranges from "outstanding to dismal." Their study showed how performance differed among economic and ethnic groups, with poor, black, and Hispanic students making the biggest gains in achievement in comparison to their traditional school counterparts. Asian and white students in charter schools did no better, and sometimes slightly worse than their counterparts in traditional public schools.[23][24]

Although the first charter school resulted from reforms supported by the president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Albert Shankar, teacher unions do not unequivocally support charter schools. Despite their public support of charters, they tend to see charter schools as competition and a threat to the funding of traditional public schools. In addition, they do not support teacher merit pay and the prohibition on collective bargaining in charters. In Waiting for "Superman," for example, AFT union leader, Randi Weingarten, is shown defending public schools and public school teachers against the those wanting to bring reform. More recently, union leaders have complained that there is a lack of transparency, accountability and quality for some of the large companies operating for-profit charter schools, and they demanded more oversight. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) is trying to reduce the growth of charter schools and return funding to traditional public schools in a pushback against the reform movement.[25][26][27]

See also

External links

Suggest a link


  1. Public School Review, "What is a Charter School?" accessed May 14, 2014
  2. Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  3. Minnesota Legislative Reference Library, "Charter Schools," accessed April 30, 2014
  4. Center for Education Reform, "Choice and charter school - Facts", accessed on October 20, 2014
  5. The Center for Education Reform, "Charter School Primer," accessed April 30, 2014
  6. For a comparison of state charter school laws see The Center for Education Reform, "Charter School Laws Across the States, 2012."
  7. National Charter School Resource Center, "Understanding Charter Schools," accessed April 29, 2104
  8. Uncommon Schools, "Frequently Asked Questions About Public, Charter Schools," accessed April 30, 2014
  9. The Center for Education Reform, "Just the FAQs--Charter Schools," accessed April 30, 2014
  10. Education Week, "Mississippi Board Approves the State's First Charter School," accessed June 23, 2014
  11. Los Angeles Daily News, "Charter schools see largest boom since their inception 20 years ago," January 17, 2013
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, "The Health of the Public Charter School Movement: A State-By-State Analysis," accessed October 3, 2014
  13. City Academy," accessed May 9, 2014
  14. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (2013). accessed April 29, 2014
  15. The Center for Research on Education Outcomes, "National Charter School Study 2013," p. 8," accessed April 29, 2014
  16. National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, "Dashboard," accessed April 30, 2014
  17. 17.0 17.1 National Assessment Governing Board, "Who Attends Charter Schools and How Are Those Students Doing?," December 2012
  18. The Center for Research on Education Outcomes, "National Charter School Study Executive Summary, 2013," accessed June 18, 2014
  19. The Center for Education Reform, "America's Attitudes Toward Charter Schools," 2008
  20. Take Part, "About the Film," accessed April 30, 2014
  21. The Center for Education Reform, "How are Charter Schools Funded," accessed May 1, 2014
  22. University of Arkansas, Department of Education Reform, "Charter School Funding: Inequity Expands," accessed April 30, 2014
  23. The Center for Education Reform, "Fact-checking Charter School Achievement," accessed May 1, 2014
  24. The Center for Research on Education Outcomes, "National Charter School Study 2013," p. 8," accessed April 29, 2014
  25. American School Choice, "Teacher Unions Fight Charter Schools, Still Want Their Teachers," May 2, 2014.
  26. U.S. News and World Report, "AFT, Advocacy Group Want More Accountability for Charters," Feb. 26, 2014
  27. Slate, "De Blasio vs. Everyone Else," March 12, 2014