Charter Schools 101: The Most Frequently Asked Questions
What are Public Charter Schools?
Charter schools, created more than 20 years ago to improve our nation’s public school system and close the achievement gap, are unique public schools that have the freedom to be more innovative while being held accountable for improving student achievement. As a result, they raise the bar for what is possible in public education.
What Makes Charter Schools Public Schools?
Charter schools foster a partnership between parents, teachers and students to create an environment in which parents can be more involved, teachers are given the freedom to be innovative in their classrooms to help improve learning, and students are provided the structure they need to learn. This holds all groups accountable for the most important goal: improving student achievement.
Charter schools are also held accountable to state and federal academic standards, ensuring a high-quality education for their students. There are more than 6,000 charter schools across 42 states and the District of Columbia educating more than 2 million children.
Charter schools, while operating independent of a school district, are public schools. Just like traditional public schools, charter schools are funded by local, state and federal tax dollars based on student enrollment. They are free, do not have special entrance requirements and do not charge tuition. Charter schools are not religious and cannot discriminate against students on any basis.
Are Charter Schools For-Profit?
Charter schools choose their own management structure: 67 percent of all charter schools are independently run non-profit, single site schools; 20 percent are run by non-profit organizations that run more than one charter school; and just under 13 percent are run by for-profit companies. For-profit charter schools have to meet financial oversight regulations, just like any company the government contracts with to provide a service.
How are Public Charter Schools Held Accountable to State Educational Standards?
Public charter schools are required to meet all state and federal education standards, just like traditional public schools. In addition, they are judged on how well they meet student achievement goals established by their charter contracts. A quality public charter school must meet rigorous academic, financial and managerial standards.
What Makes Charter Schools Successful?
- Fostering Innovation: Charter schools allow teachers the freedom to be more innovative while focusing on improving student achievement. By giving teachers the ability to try new methods to help students learn, charter schools are developing effective new teaching models that can be replicated in traditional public schools. With the flexibility to modernize and develop successful new education practices, teachers improve learning and share results with the wider public school system for broader benefits.
- Increasing Achievement in Underserved Communities: Charter schools believe all students are capable of learning and succeeding, and provide an important public school option to students from underserved communities and low income areas. By creating an environment tailored to these students’ needs, charter schools have successfully demonstrated that underserved children can thrive at a high level. Additionally, charter schools bring programs to disadvantaged neighborhoods that not only serve children, but the whole community, providing parents with education on parenting, nutrition and more.
How Are Charter Schools Making a Difference?
- Sixteen academic studies have been published on charter school performance since 2010, four national studies and 12 regional studies from throughout the country. Fifteen of the 16 found that students in charter schools do better in school than their traditional school peers. One study found mixed results. The most recent of those studies, by the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes at Stanford University, found that charter schools do a better job teaching low income students, minority students, and students who are still learning English than traditional schools.
- In 25 schools districts around the country, more than 20 percent of all schoolchildren attend a public charter school. New Orleans has a higher percentage of children in charter schools than anywhere else in the country. Students attending public charter schools in New Orleans learn an additional four months in reading and five months in math more than their peers attending traditional public schools. Statewide, students attending public charter schools in Louisiana gained an additional 50 days of learning in reading and 65 days in math compared to their peers attending traditional public schools.
- Children who attend charter schools are more likely to graduate from high school than their traditional school peers. And dozens of charter schools across the country have 100 percent college acceptance rates for their graduating seniors.
- At one charter school in Arizona, BASIS, students scored higher on an international test called the PISA than students from anywhere in the world. At the Success Academy charter school in Harlem, every fourth grader passed the state’s science exam. In 2012, every high school senior at an Uncommon charter school took the SAT exam, achieving an average score that was 20 points above the College Board’s benchmark for college readiness.
- And charter schools continue to disproportionately top the lists of America’s best high schools in Newsweek, US News and World Report, and the Washington Post. In fact, on these lists more than a quarter of the best high schools are charter schools.
How are Public Charter Schools Held Financially Accountable?
Since public charter schools are funded with public dollars, they are required by law to be held accountable for how taxpayer dollars are spent with regular audits and ongoing reviews from their authorizing entities.
What are Some Successful Innovations within Public Charter Schools?
Across the country, public charter schools are creating a wide variety of innovations, including:
Curriculum design (e.g., Montessori, Core Knowledge, Advanced Placement Courses, Foreign Language Immersion Programs, Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics)
Extended learning time
School cultures with high expectations for all students and adults
More structured and disciplined learning environments
Rewarding high-quality teachers with higher pay
How Are Public Charter Schools Funded?
When a student transfers from a traditional public school to a public charter school, the funding associated with that student will follow him or her to the public charter school. Public charter schools do not add any new costs to the state’s public education system. They simply move funding associated with a student from one public school to another based upon the decisions of families.