What is a charter school?

Question:  What are charter schools?

A charter school is typically a publicly funded school governed by an organization or group of relevant individuals under a legislative contract (or charter) with the state, district, or other jurisdiction.  The original intent was to offer alternatives to traditional public education and to allow teachers more freedom with curriculum.  

The first charter school opened in Minnesota in 1992. As of 2014-15 school year 6,700 public charter schools have opened in at least 43 states, serving 2.9 million students.  Charter schools became a major component of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002. Specifically students attending schools labeled as under-performing by state standards may transfer to a different school, whether it is a state, private, or charter school. The 2002 Act also suggests that if a failing school cannot show adequate yearly progress, it will be designated a charter school.

Certain aspects for charter schools apply:

  • Charter schools are supposed to be open to all students and should not charge tuition;
  • They may be founded by teachers, parents, activists, or private interest groups;
  • The charter may exempt the school from certain state or local rules and regulations. However, in return for flexibility, waivers, and autonomy, the charter school must meet the accountability standards outlined in its charter. This is virtually the only oversight that has been provided.
  • A school’s charter is reviewed periodically (typically every 3 to 5 years) by the group or jurisdiction that granted it and can be revoked if guidelines on curriculum and management are not followed or if the standards are not met. To be clear, the only real measurements that appear to be evaluated are financial stability and test scores.
  • Individual charter schools may designate their own curriculum focus, such as math, technology, performing arts, civic engagement, etc.
  • Unlike regular public schools, the governance of charter schools vary greatly from state to state and even school to school.  For example:
    • There is variation in what agencies or governing body is permitted to create a charter school;
    • There is variation in whether or not charter school teachers must be certified and what criteria the certification consists of.

Colorado charter schools are truly in the experimental stage and have a lot of unanswered questions that continue to surround them. The longterm data has yet to come back on the actual return of investment for the public dollars compared to the true educational benefit that students receive.

Information resourced in part from:

National Center for Education Statistics retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/
National Alliance for Public Charter Schools retrieved from http://www.publiccharters.org/get-the-facts/public-charter-schools/

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