A charter school is an independent educational resource for a community that is still publicly funded. It can be established by a community group, an organization of parents, of a group of teachers, but must follow the terms of a charter that are dictated by local, regional, or national authorities or oversight groups.
They are often called a “school of choice” because parents can opt to send their children to a charter school instead of their assigned public school.
The benefit of a charter school is that it operates outside of the regulations that in-district schools are forced to follow. They are still accountable for academic results and must prove evidence of their performance capabilities. Being able to operate outside of the regulations can also be a disadvantage as it reduces the amount of oversight that may be in place for the school.
Here are some of the other pros and cons of charter schools to think about.
The Pros of Charter Schools
1. It gives parents another choice.
In many school districts, an assigned school is provided to parents, based on where the family lives. In some small communities, it may be the only public school option that is available. Even if the school district only has one elementary school, a charter school gives parents another public option that doesn’t come with the higher costs of choosing a private school for their children.
2. Charter schools can provide the atmosphere of a private school.
Many charter schools have smaller classroom sizes. Fewer students means that the teachers in a charter school can provide their students with more 1-on-1 attention and this can improve student performance. The independence of a charter school can also allow it to offer specialized classes or alternative approaches to education, much like a private school, and this can create more excitement for the learning process.
3. Innovation is easier to make happen in a charter school.
Any parent who deals with a hyperactive child that cannot sit still for 5 seconds understands the difficulties of forcing that child to sit at a desk or table throughout an entire school day. Charter schools can help encourage learning without resorting to harsh discipline because of that hyperactivity. Experiential learning and other innovations occur more often at charter schools than public schools because of its independence.
4. There is less “teaching to the test.”
Public schools are held to specific standards, often mandated by the government. These standards are based on testing metrics that have been developed using standardized testing. Teacher performance and salaries are often tied to those metrics. Because of this, students can lose up to 40 days of learning each year, with nearly 75% of those days involving reading or math. Charter schools can change this.
5. Online schools have developed from the charter system.
Virtual schools have been developed through the charter school process. These schools, which allow students to study at home while still having access to teachers through a computer, can allow parents to have more control over the education of their children without the need to certify themselves as a teacher. Virtual schools also keep costs down, which means more can be spent on the quality of the education.
6. They are well-supported.
Any parent who has a child in a public school can attest to the numerous fundraisers that they are asked to participate in throughout the year. From bake sales to jump-a-thons, it is how public schools get the extra funds they need. Charter schools tend to be privately funded and supported, which reduces the amount of financial involvement households must endure. It may cost a little more to send a child to some charter schools, but when all the time and monetary costs are compared, the results are about equal.
7. They encourage competition.
When a school district has no competition, it can create laziness in policies, procedures, and even teaching. Even with poor scores, they know they’ll still be operating. Charter schools create competition and that creates accountability.
The Cons of Charter Schools
1. The lack of oversight on charter schools can be costly.
Charter systems that have been investigated in the past have been found wanted. Ohio charter schools have been found to inappropriately spend public dollars 4 times more often compared to the traditional public school. Hundreds of thousands of dollars can be spent on charter schools before they ever open and some might never even accept a student despite that level of investment. Corruption is far too common in the charter system.
2. Online schools fail when there is zero parental involvement.
One of the biggest complaints that public schools have is that there is little parental involvement in the education process. Schools are sending home documents daily that require parents to sign or initial a review of a child’s homework to counter this. Because online schools keep the kids at home, it exposes the households where there is no parental involvement and that can hurt a child’s educational opportunities should that occur.
3. The tax advantages of a charter school invite corruption.
In the 1990s, a tax credit was established in the US, providing a 39% credit on contributions that are received over a 7-year period. Interest can be collected on the money that is contributed at the same time. This means the potential fund of a charter school could double or triple in size over that 7-year period, to the financial gain of those involved. These credits can be combined with others at the same time for more financial gain.
4. Charter schools play by different rules.
Many charter schools tend to have the highest-performing students enroll while avoiding the lower-performing students. This causes public school districts in the US to lose money because funding tends to be tied to student performance levels. Lower grades and test scores means less money. That forces districts to make cuts or raise money in other ways, like requesting a property tax increase, to meet their needs. This is allowed because charter schools can play by different rules.
5. Teachers can be treated poorly in charter schools.
Most charter schools are classified as private, despite receive public funding, which means they are often exempt from disciplinary and labor laws. It is not unusual for charter teachers to work 70 hours per week at a lower salary than a public-school teacher, with a greater intensity of work, and will have no recourse to protect their working conditions.
The pros and cons of charter schools show us that having more choices can be a good thing. It is important to remember that having another choice available doesn’t always mean that it is a good choice. The goal is to make sure our children and future generations can have access to a beneficial education. Charter schools should be part of that conversation, but there should also be mechanisms that help to keep them accountable.