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Charter Schools – A Closer Look


In recent months, there’s been a lot of talk in the media about charter schools. More common in urban areas, these public schools began popping up in the early 1990s. Due to their relative newness, many have questions about how these schools operate, what they offer and how they differ from traditional public schools. We put together a basic Q & A:

What’s a charter school?
A charter schools is a non-religious public school that operates under a governing charter (or contract). All major details of its operation —including organization, management and curriculum—are set by the charter. The charter also outlines how the school measures student performance. Since charter schools are funded through tax dollars, they cannot charge tuition and they must maintain open enrollment policies.

How are they founded?
Charter operators include local school districts, institutions of higher education, non-profit groups and for-profit corporations.

How many US students are enrolled?
Approximately three million – or 6% of all public school students – are enrolled in a charter school. Charter school enrollment varies greatly by state. California has the largest number of students enrolled in charter schools (8% of total public school students). A handful of states – Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and West Virginia – do not allow charter schools to operate.

How does the curriculum differ?
Charter schools must adhere to basic state curricular requirements. In addition, most specialize in a particular area, such as language, art or technology. Some charter schools specifically target gifted or high-risk students.

How are they regulated?
Charter schools must participate in state testing and federal accountability programs. However, since charter schools receive more freedom and autonomy in terms of staff, curriculum and budget management, they must have their charter reviewed every three to five years. If the school is not meeting standards, it is subject to being shut down.

Do they perform as well as traditional public schools?
There have been conflicting studies on whether charter school students outperform or underperform their peers attending traditional public schools. Since rules, regulations and accountability vary from state to state, it’s been difficult to evaluate charter school performance at a national level.