What Is a Charter School?
As of 2010, there are over 4,500 K-12 charter schools in the United States, with an enrollment of 1.3 million students and 60,700 teachers.Charter schools are independent public schools that are not bound by many of the same regulations as traditional public schools. This increased autonomy helps them achieve the specific missions on which they are founded. They are established in their communities alongside existing public schools, and sometimes even inside them. Admissions is open to all students and usually conducted by lottery. Because the purpose of a charter school is to offer an alternative option for education to everybody; they admit students solely on the basis of availability. Charter schools are available as a choice for families. Students enroll in charter schools because they and their parents wish to do so.
Charter schools are usually founded by parents, educators, entrepreneurs or existing schools, and the fundamental thing that sets them apart from other public schools is the specific mission laid out by their founders. These missions form the school’s “charter”: a contract between the school’s founders and the school’s sponsors (usually the board of education for that state or community) that outlines the school’s goals, programs of study, admissions guidelines, employment guidelines and academic assessments. Charter schools encourage innovative teaching, determine their own curricula and programs and are not bound by state regulations concerning scheduling and financial administration. They also offer choices for parents and students within the public school system and create new teaching jobs for talented teachers.
In exchange for this autonomy, charter schools are held to higher standards.The contract is usually for a period of five years, during which time the school is expected to perform exceptionally, meeting or exceeding the educational standards of the state. The school is held accountable for the achievement of its students, and if it cannot prove itself, the charter can be terminated.
Parents and teachers choose charter schools for their small class sizes, their high academic standards, their innovative approaches and their educational philosophies. Because of this reputation for excellence and their obligation to their community, it is of the utmost importance that these schools achieve the goals set forth for their students.
The establishment of charter schools are subject to the laws of each state, so the schools within each state have unique standards, goals and regulations.The Education Commission of the States provides profiles of the Charter Laws in each state, and USCharterSchools.org also has state profiles that summarize legislation, news and resources for each state.