Many parents want more choices in their children’s education, and charter schools are a relatively recent innovation in public schools meant to address that concern. The pros and cons to charter schools are explored in this article.
Charter schools can offer some students an educational alternative that meets their needs better than traditional public schools, at no extra cost to their parents. Charter schools are public schools that are given more flexibility in their methods and administration and are expected to increase student academic performance as a result. Because of their flexibility, they can attempt to better meet the needs of the local community through innovative teaching methods. Charter schools can be initiated by the school district, by teachers, by community leaders, or by parents. Schools set up their charter with the local or state school board, agreeing on how they will be run and what achievements they expect to make. The charter is reviewed every few years, and the school board decides if the school is living up to its mission. The charter school movement began in the 1990s, and is becoming a more popular choice in public education.
The benefits of charter schools can include:
- Making sure all students have opportunities for quality education
- Giving parents and students choices in public education
- Giving teachers and administrators room to be creative in helping students achieve
- Requiring schools to be accountable for their performance
- Allowing teachers to try innovative teaching methods
- Giving more options and opportunities to teachers
- Encouraging involvement by parents and the community in education
- Making improvements in current educational methods
- Smaller school and class size
- Teachers choose to work there, meaning they are committed to the school’s mission
Because charter schools are run through state education systems, they vary a lot from state to state. Most charter schools have more potential students than spaces in the school, so it can be difficult to get a student into a charter school. Usually lotteries or waiting lists are used to determine who gets in. If one child in a family is attending a charter school, their siblings may be more likely to be admitted, but this varies by school.
Overall, parents and students seem to be happy with charter schools, and many charter schools have their charters renewed. Occasionally charter schools have their charters revoked and are shut down or changed because they failed to achieve their goals. Parents who are considering a charter school should find out if it has had its charter renewed yet. If not, it may still be a good school, but parents should be certain they feel comfortable with the school and believe it is providing a quality education.
Parents who are interested in charter schools should first decide what they want from their child’s schools, in terms of type of education, teaching styles, curriculum, activities, etc. Then they should look for a school that best meets those needs. Visit the school and make sure that it meets your needs and expectations, that you are satisfied with the learning environment you see, and that you feel comfortable with the school for your child. Before visiting a school, learn all you can about it, and set up an appointment for the visit.
Some tips for your visit are:
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
- Notice what the classrooms are like - if the students seem happy and if their work is displayed and is appropriate for their grade level.
- Notice how the teachers interact with the students and with you, and if they seem respectful, competent, happy, and interested in the students’ well being.
- Visit the library and find out what kind of technology is available to students, such as computers.
- Find out about the curriculum and if it includes the arts, music, physical fitness, and time outdoors.
- Think about how your student will get to the school each day, since some charter schools don’t have buses.
- If your student has special needs, find out if the school is equipped to meet those needs.
- Notice how the students behave toward each other and the adults, if they seem respectful and positive.
- Pay attention to the buildings and play areas and if they seem clean and safe.
- Find out how long the school has been around and what its administrators consider to be its successes.
- Find out the statistics of the charter school.
Charter schools may be one of several educational choices available to you and your student. Finding the right match for your child’s needs may take work and patience, but by researching the options available you will be prepared to make the best decision for your child.
U.S. Department of Education, Choices for Parents, Charter Schools Program [online]
US Charter Schools, About the Charter School Movement [online]
GreatSchools: The Parents Guide to K-12 Success, The School Visit: What to Look For, What to Ask [online]