The Growth of Charter Schools

Since 2005, charter schools have grown over 7% year after year. Here's a look at what really makes a charter school different from a regular public school.

Why They're Different:

Charter schools receive public money, but function as autonomous public schools in exchange for being held accountable for their results. While they are not exempt from state and/or federal educational standards, they allow teachers and administrators increased flexibility and control over the methods and culture of the school. The rules, structure, and charter authorization for charter schools are established by the state government and vary from state to state.

How They Work:

States and/or funders must approve the school's "charter," in which it lays out its mission, achievement goals and methods of assessment. This charter usually lasts for 3-5 years. In order to keep their charter, the schools are accountable to their founders and achievement goals or their charter can be revoked. Charters can be managed and/or funded by a variety of parties, from for-profit corporations to institutions of higher learning to non-profits to charter management corporations such as EdisonLearning or the National Heritage Academies. Because the quality and popularity of charter schools can vary dramatically, admissions requirements are often different from school to school. High-performing and in-demand schools may require an application and interview but most schools determine admission based on availability or a random lottery system.

Do They Really Perform Better?

The most extensive study of charter school performance was run in 2009 at Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes. The report analyzed 70% of all American students attending charter schools and found that, on average, they perform the same or worse than public schools. Debate over these findings, and over charter schools in general, is quite heated.

The only thing most educators and analysts can agree on is the fact that charter school performance is highly inconsistent from school to school. There have been egregious scandals at some schools and incredible success stories at others. In spite of this, they continue to grow across the country.

Weigh in on the charter school debate and let us know what you think below!

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