Written by Jean Hsu
Public charter schools are now a very real option for students and parents looking at schools that will prepare them best for the rigor of college and beyond. In fact, over 90% of the students in New Orleans, LA attend a public charter school.
So what is the draw? To answer this question, we might want to start by taking a step back and defining what constitutes a public charter school. Charter schools are not private schools. There is no additional tuition, application, or requirements for students to enroll, which is similar to traditional public schools. However, there are a few key differences centered around their funding, governance, and pedagogy that make them an interesting alternative for some students.
Funding. Traditional public schools receive all their funding from the government, meaning taxpayer funds. Meanwhile, charter schools can receive both government funding and private funding from individual donors and non-profits. It may not seem all that fair at first, but it’s important to note that all government education funding is based on a per student rate and the rate given to charter schools is less than that appropriated to traditional public schools.
Governance. Charters are typically governed by community-based organizations or education specific non-profits. For example, you may have heard about KIPP or Success Academy “brands” that have a heavier focus on college preparation. Traditional public schools, on the other hand, are governed by the local and state government rules and regulations. This difference might be most notable with decisions regarding afterschool programming offered or uniform policies.
Pedagogy. While both types of schools are required to prepare their students to meet state and federal department of education common core standards, charter schools often also incorporate a thematic pedagogy. For example, High Tech High in San Diego, CA was one of the first STEM focused charter schools largely funded by the Gates Foundation. Their founding mission was to prepare students for the modern world through hands-on, project-based curriculum. Rather than reading and reciting a textbook, students learn the same concepts via a real-world application method.
The reports on student success from charter schools is very much debated in education reform circles. For some students, public charter schools can be a great alternative to traditional classroom learning, because they strive to be more adaptive to the student or family educational goals and values. However, students who require more structure from a classroom environment may still gain more from a traditional public school setting.