|“||This ground breaking Minnesota law allowed the formation of eight results-oriented, student-centered public schools.||”|
—Minnesota Legislative Reference Library, (2014), 
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. Charter school laws differ from state to state, and the way those laws are written and implemented greatly affects charter schools' success.
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.
- See also: Charter school demographics
The following information was current as of the 2011-2012 school year:
- Of the 50 states, 42 states and the District of Columbia had adopted charter school laws.
- Alabama, Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia did not have charter school laws. (Washington passed the Washington Charter School Initiative [Initiative 1240], in November 2012 to allow charter schools.)
- Maine approved the establishment of charter schools, but as of 2011-2012 had none operating.
- California enrolled the most students in charter schools, 364,000 students.
- The District of Columbia enrolled the highest percentage of public school students in charter schools--38 percent, which represents 27,000 students.
- More than 10 percent of public school students in Arizona were enrolled in charter schools.
- In 15 other states, between 4 percent and 9.9 percent of public school students were enrolled in charter schools.
- Of the states with 4 percent or more public school students enrolled in charter schools, eight were in the West; four were in the South (including the District of Columbia); four were in the Midwest; and one was in the Northeast.
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. 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.
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 Charter Schools for the 2012-2013 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.
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."
|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|
|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|
|Top official:||Margaret Raymond|
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):
- 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.
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."
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.
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.
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 DeBlasio is trying to reduce the growth of charter schools and return funding to traditional public schools in a pushback against the reform movement.
- Education Policy in the U.S.
- School choice on the ballot
- School choice
- Charter schools in the United States
- U.S. Department of Education
- National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
- National Charter School Resource Center
- The Center for Education Reform
- Public School Review, "What is a Charter School?" accessed May 14, 2014
- Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
- Minnesota Legislative Reference Library, "Charter Schools," accessed April 30, 2014
- Center for Education Reform, "Choice and charter school - Facts", accessed on October 20, 2014
- The Center for Education Reform, "Charter School Primer," accessed April 30, 2014
- For a comparison of state charter school laws see The Center for Education Reform, "Charter School Laws Across the States, 2012."
- National Charter School Resource Center, "Understanding Charter Schools," accessed April 29, 2104
- Uncommon Schools, "Frequently Asked Questions About Public, Charter Schools," accessed April 30, 2014
- The Center for Education Reform, "Just the FAQs--Charter Schools," accessed April 30, 2014
- U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (2013). accessed April 29, 2014
- City Academy," accessed May 9, 2014
- The Center for Research on Education Outcomes, "National Charter School Study 2013," p. 8," accessed April 29, 2014
- National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, "Dashboard," accessed April 30, 2014
- National Assessment Governing Board, "Who Attends Charter Schools and How Are Those Students Doing?," December 2012
- The Center for Research on Education Outcomes, "National Charter School Study Executive Summary, 2013," accessed June 18, 2014
- The Center for Education Reform, "America's Attitudes Toward Charter Schools," 2008
- Take Part, "About the Film," accessed April 30, 2014
- The Center for Education Reform, "How are Charter Schools Funded," accessed May 1, 2014
- University of Arkansas, Department of Education Reform, "Charter School Funding: Inequity Expands," accessed April 30, 2014
- The Center for Education Reform, "Fact-checking Charter School Achievement," accessed May 1, 2014
- The Center for Research on Education Outcomes, "National Charter School Study 2013," p. 8," accessed April 29, 2014
- American School Choice, "Teacher Unions Fight Charter Schools, Still Want Their Teachers," May 2, 2014.
- U.S. News and World Report, "AFT, Advocacy Group Want More Accountability for Charters," Feb. 26, 2014
- Slate, "De Blasio vs. Everyone Else," March 12, 2014