What are Charter Schools?
Charter schools are becoming increasingly popular in the United States. As of 2008, there were over 5,000 charter schools in existence in 41 states and the District of Columbia. But what is a charter school and why are they becoming so popular?
Charter schools are primary and secondary institutions that are autonomous alternatives to traditional public schools. While most are still part of the public school system, they are considered "schools of choice," which means students elect to attend them and they do not charge tuition. They receive public funding and private donations similar to public schools, but may not be subject to all of the same rules, regulations and statutes. However, they are still responsible for producing certain academic results from their student body that are expressed in their school’s charter, "a statutorily defined performance contract detailing the school’s mission, program, goals, students served, methods of assessment, and ways to measure success." These schools are traditionally located in urban settings, represent newly formed schools and have the ability to teach specialized curriculums, like arts and mathematics.
The idea of charter schools was first introduced in 1988 by Ray Budde a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Albert Shanker, President of the American Federal of Teachers. They both expressed a desire for either a reform of the current public school system or a creation of "schools of choice" for students. They originally hoped to established schools that were run like private businesses, being autonomous and free from religious affiliations and state or district regulations.
Today, charter schools are generally started by teachers, parents or community activists that are seeking alternatives to traditional public schools and are unsatisfied with their curriculum or teaching styles. The rules and regulations that govern a charter school vary from state to state, are clearly outlined in the charter and must be reviewed and renewed every three to five years. Also, charter schools must be accountable to their state assigned sponsor, a school board, university or other entity and produce records of satisfactory academic performance by their students.
With traditional public schools across the country losing funding from the government and being criticized for being too "test-centric" and charter schools providing students the ability to receive more specialized, more hands-on education, it’s not surprising that charter schools are growing in popularity. But before you decide to send your child to a charter school, research the organization, review their charter and their past academic performance. Getting the best education is the most important goal.