Charter schools are basically the same as any other schools, except that they have to produce pre-agreed results by the students. In exchange, the rules that apply to any other schools are loosened.
These schools stand between private schools and public schools. Some have their own system of curriculum but are still considered part of the public education system. Therefore, they can’t charge for tuition. Getting into these schools can be quite difficult since demand is high. Those who apply usually are the ones who opt for a more non-restrictive learning environment which are run by non-profit organizations.
Structure and Principles
These schools do not have many students, an average of 200, a reason why they resort to lottery-based admissions. They are mostly found in the cities and built anew instead of being upgraded from normal schools. Its students are found to be more racially diverse and come from low-income families, according to a survey in 2007.
Charter schools operate on two principles. First, they are considered a separate entity from conventional public schools. They have their own set of laws, called a charter that states their mission, methods and values. These charters are given 3 to 5 years after the school’s creation by the sponsor.
Second, they are responsible for the performance of their students. If a high percentage of students have dismal results, the school can be closed down. Currently, 11% of 4000 schools have shut down operations due to a number of reasons, bad student performance being one of them.
As said before, charter schools are sponsored by organizations and private universities. There is also the Federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Part B, Sections 502 – 511, which authorizes extra funding.
Although the state government is responsible of funding charter schools, a study conducted in 2005 by the Thomas B. Fordam Institute found that 84% of charter school students receive less money than their public school counterparts. When you crunch the figures, it amounts to $450,000 annually per school. Despite this, charter schools are not exactly short on cash.
Are They Any Good?
Many people still ask the question whether charter schools actually help improve a student’s academic skills. And as usual, different people have different answers for that.
The American Federation of Teachers conducted a study in 2003 as part of the National Education Assessment. They discovered that charter schools do not do any better or worse than public schools in the tests that the students partake. However, the study has been criticized for not using a larger sample and being too concentrated.
Caroline Hoxby, a Harvard economist, wrote a paper in 2000 about the disparity between charter and public schools. In her paper, she said that charter school students fared better than public school students, but only among white non-Hispanic males with educated parents. This paper has been accused of being flawed due to its methodology. In fact, another analyst said that the study had been useful but incomplete.
The National Centre for Education Statistics released a study in 2006 that casts charter schools in bad light. They claim that students from charter schools are trailing by a few points behind students from public schools. This study was done based on every demographic data available and is said to be accurate. This strengthened a report by the United States Department of Education, which said basically the same thing in 2003.
Charter schools have proven to be well-liked among Americans. A poll conducted in Idaho in early 2008 showed that only 12% of parents selected public schools as their first choice. This boom in popularity is probably due to the unconventional management of the charter schools. They are based on principles acquired from the private sector, namely, accountability and customer feedback.
Politicians have been riding this education wave too. Both President Bill Clinton and George W. Bush supported charter schools as a middle ground between public and private schools. That way, the Teacher’s Federation will be happy and students can have a quasi-private education environment.
Charter schools are not without their fair share of problems. The biggest thorn on their sides has always been the difficulties involving accountability. All charter schools are dependant on public support and funding to survive. If they lose that, they’ll have no choice but to shut down.
Many people also worry that charter schools are becoming more like private schools everyday. Although it’s rare, there are several for-profit charter schools that forgo certain educational programs to avoid financial loss. These schools are also the ones that face most of the accountability problems since their tight spending negatively affects student performance.
Racial issues also rear its ugly head in charter schools. Studies conducted by University of Georgia and Columbia University state that racial segregation is actually practiced by charter schools, somewhat unintentionally.
The concerns revolving around charter schools are still shrouded in shadows and can’t be solved without further study. However, they still prove to be a famous choice for parents out there that can’t afford private school and dissatisfied with the public schools.