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Difference between revisions of "Charter schools"

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[[Category:School terms]]
[[Category:School terms]]
[[Category:Education policy project]]
[[Category:Education policy project]]

Revision as of 08:55, 1 May 2014

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Glossary of education terms

Charter schools are publicly funded schools operated independently of the public school system, either by non-profit or for-profit organizations. They are exempt from many of the requirements imposed by the state boards of education regarding hiring and curriculum. Charter schools came about in response to failing schools as part of the school choice reform movement, which sought to offer parents more choice and schools more freedom to innovate to meet students' needs. Minnesota was the first state to pass a charter school law in 1991.

"This ground breaking Minnesota law allowed the formation of eight results-oriented, student-centered public schools."[1][2]

In exchange for greater flexibility and exemption from many district and state regulations, charter schools have higher performance-based accountability standards. Such schools 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. As public schools they cannot discriminate, 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. Charter school laws differ from state to state, and how those laws are written and implemented greatly affects charter success.[3][4][5]

State facts

The following information is current as of school year 2010-2011:

  • Of the 50 states, 41 states and the District of Columbia had adopted charter school laws.
  • Alabama, Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia do not have charter school laws.
  • Maine approved the establishment of charter schools, but as of 2010-2011 had none operating.
  • California enrolled the most students in charter schools (364,000).
  • The District of Columbia enrolled the highest percentage of public school students in charter schools (38 percent), representing 27,000 students.
  • More more than 10 percent of public school students in Arizona were enrolled in charter schools.
  • In 15 other states, between 4 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. [6]

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 2010-11 there were 5,300 charter schools in the country and between 1999 and 2011 the following changes occurred:

  • 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 2 to 5 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 9 to 15 percent.
  • The percentage with 1,000 students or more increased from 2 to 4 percent.[6]


For the school year 2011-2012 in the National Charter School Study it is estimated 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. The National Alliance for Charter Schools estimates that 6.3% of all public schools are now charter schools, with about 920,000 student names on their waiting lists.[7][8]

Obama greets students from Waiting for Superman

In 2010 the documentary Waiting for "Superman" 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, 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."[9]

Charter schools have become politically popular not only because they promise higher academic results for their often high-risk student populations and greater accountability, but also because charter schools cost less per pupil, saving taxpayer dollars. Funding varies by state and depends on many factors. A recent study 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.[10]


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 CREDO study, researchers studied 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.[11][12]

Although in 1992 the first charter school resulted from reforms supported by the president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Albert Shankar, teacher unions have been critical of charter schools. Despite their ostensible public support of charters, they tend to see them as competition and a threat to the funding of regular public schools. In Waiting for "Superman," for example, AFT union leader, Randi Weingarten, is shown defending public schools and public school teachers against the reformers. More recently, because of the rapid expansion of charter schools throughout the country, union leaders complain that there is a lack of transparency, accountability and quality for some of the large companies operating charter schools for-profit, and demand 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.[13][14]

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