7 Key Facts About Charter Schools Everyone Should Know

Over the past few years, there has been a growing debate concerning the nature of charter schools, and whether they are a hindrance or help to the communities they are supposed to serve. Many unsubstantiated claims have been made on both sides, and as arguments have escalated it has become harder to discern fact from fiction. So, what exactly are the facts?

To break it down for everyone, we’ve put together a list of key facts you should know about charter schools.

7 Key Facts About Charter Schools Everyone Should Know

1. A charter school is a non-religious public school operating under a contract, or “charter,” that governs its operation.
According to the Center for Public Education, this charter details all rules and regulations concerning the school’s operation. The charter also outlines how the school will go about measuring student performance. Because charter schools are publicly funded, they absolutely must have open enrollment policies and are not allowed to charge tuition. They are also required to participate in state testing and federal accountability programs.

2. Most charter schools’ operations are inherently private.
Although most charter schools claim to be “public” and have some elements similar to public schools, the majority are governed by Education Management Organizations (or EMOs). One of the central differences between charter and public schools is the independence charter schools maintain from state and local rules.

3. Charter schools are allowed to develop alternate curriculums.
As long as the outlines for the curriculum are detailed in the charter, charter schools are allowed to create and utilize adjustable curriculums to meet students’ specific needs. Charter schools are granted this level of autonomy in exchange for having their charter reviewed by authorizing agencies every few years. These agencies then choose to renew or revoke the charter.

4. Advocacy groups and the groups that sponsor charter schools have a track record of being opposed to unions.
Although claims have been made in a report by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (abbreviated NAPCS) that “charter schools are neither pro-union nor anti-union: they are pro teacher,” only 12 percent of all charter schools nationally have unionized, and the majority of these unionized schools are public school conversions. Although charter schools claim to support “pro-teacher” ideals, research on working conditions indicate that charter schools still have a long way to go to reach it.

5. There is a substantial body of research concluding that charter schools are accelerating resegregation.
According to “Separating fact from fiction in 21 claims about charter schools” in the Washington Post addressing the claims made by the NAPCS, the NAPCS stated that “public charter schools enroll more students of color and from low-income backgrounds than traditional public schools.” While this is true in part, it does not reflect the bimodal distribution of minority and white students. Studies have shown that ultimately, charter schools have accelerated segregation by race and class. This segregation, however, does not necessarily contradict charter schools’ goal to provide opportunities to lower-income students and minorities.

6. As of February 2016, there are over 6,800 charter schools serving almost 3 million children nationally.
This is approximately 8 percent of the public school student population, which is a 3 percent increase since the 2013-14 school year. Roughly 50 percent of these students are minorities, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

7. Charter schools do not conclusively yield stronger academic results than traditional public schools.
Many charter schools employ the charter school ideal of higher standards and academic rigor as a marketing tactic, when the results of students’ performance indicate otherwise. When examined, the total performance of charter school students compared to district schools with demographically similar students negates this claim. The results are mixed, varying considerably depending on state, and even within states.

The biggest problems people across the political spectrum are encountering is the fact that the concepts behind creating charter schools cut directly across political boundaries. While some liberals may champion the opportunities and personal development charter schools provide, others reject the higher rates of racial concentration they create and propagate. Conservatives, on the other hand, support the autonomy held by charter schools, but oppose activities and curriculums that they feel encroach upon the roles of the parents and family.

Charter schools have a complicated mix of positive and negative qualities, although the perception of these qualities may vary from person to person. Where do you stand on the issue of charter schools? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter or Facebook

Jocelyn Bermudez

Jocelyn Bermudez

Jocelyn is a freelance writer originally from sunny South Florida, where she was the Managing Editor of Axis Creative Arts Magazine and a Senior Academic Mentor at United Mentors. She is currently a student at Emerson College, where she spends her time refining her writing skills when she isn’t preparing for the famous New England winters.