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April 6, 2021

5 min

Mark Holley

5 Differences Between Charter and Public Schools

Parents deserve to know every detail about their child’s education. Unfortunately, when it comes to understanding the differences between charter schools and traditional public schools, most parents slam into a wall of confusion.

We’re here to clear up the confusion about these schools once and for all, so you can understand exactly how your child’s school operates. In this article, we will pin down the five differences between public charter schools and traditional public schools, and explain what each of those differences mean for your child’s education.

What Are the Differences Between Charter and Public Schools?

Even though both charter schools and traditional public schools are open to the public, there are several distinct differences separating them. Here’s a more detailed look at these differences:

1. Flexibility

One of the big differences between charter schools and traditional public schools is in their flexibility. Charter schools tend to be more flexible and therefore are able to make faster progress than traditional public schools. Although both types of schools are regulated, they have vastly different regulatory structures.

Traditional public schools need to pass decisions through local and district school boards. Often, district school boards oversee massive schools and need to deal with a wave of bureaucratic processes. This can make it difficult for traditional public schools to adopt progressive instructional models, even if they are better suited to serve the learning community.

Charter schools also need to pass decisions through a school board, but that board is usually independent and tends to operate more directly with school leaders. Because leaders don’t have to navigate as much red tape in the charter school system, they are able to make critical decisions about learning much more easily than most traditional public schools.

However, despite these differences, it is important to note that charter schools still have to follow strict regulations. Like traditional public schools, they need to answer to a board of directors. They also need to uphold the school’s charter agreement.

Wondering how these differences in school flexibility look in practice?

In some cases, charter schools are quicker to adopt advanced learning programs, such as online learning, self-paced coursework, and targeted direct instruction. Although traditional public schools may come around to these types of personalized learning eventually, charter schools are naturally set up to adopt, implement, and master advanced learning methods faster.

2. Public Funding

Both charter schools and traditional public schools receive public funding. However, there are some major differences in how each type of school receives finances.

First, charter school funding can vary drastically from state to state. For instance, in Illinois, charter school funding is negotiated with the sponsoring school district, whereas states like California receive both state aid and local funds based on the same funding formula that applies to traditional public schools.

Second, although charter schools usually receive some form of public funding, they still utilize some private funding. One major reason charter schools receive a smaller chunk of public funding is because, in most cases, public funds aren’t allowed to be allocated towards the cost of charter school facilities. As a result, charter schools often need to raise private funds to serve students.

Wondering how charter school funding and traditional public school funding are similar?

Most people don’t realize that both charter schools and traditional public schools are given public funding on a per-student basis. Those funds are allocated based on average daily attendance, which is total student attendance divided by the number of school days in an academic year.

3. Enrollment and Admissions

Traditional public schools and charter schools both offer enrollment that is open and free to the public. They also both admit students based on their location. However, charter schools usually have capped admission, whereas district schools usually do not have enrollment limits.

The result?

In many cases, traditional public school enrollment can balloon beyond the school’s resources and lead to crowded classrooms. Charter schools can still admit students once they’ve reached capacity, but at that point, admission is no longer open to all students. Instead, a public lottery is used to enroll students.

Still, it is important to note that charter schools aren’t allowed to discriminate or charge tuition, according to California law.

4. School Regulations

Contrary to common myths, both charter schools and traditional public schools are highly regulated. They simply answer to different regulatory groups. In the case of traditional public schools, decisions need to run through district school boards and local education agencies (LEAs). An LEA is a designated entity that is responsible for the education of learners within a specific geographical location.

Charter school regulation is just as tight as traditional public schools. They need to abide by national laws, follow state mandates, and uphold agreed-upon charters. Like district schools, charter schools also have to answer to a board of directors and operate under LEAs or act as LEAs themselves.

However, charter schools tend to go through more local entities to navigate progress. For instance, if a charter school decides to adopt an especially effective instructional framework or learning method, leaders don’t need to pass decisions through massive school districts. Instead, the decision processes for charter schools tend to be more efficient and are conducted at a local level.

5. Learning Programs

Make no mistake: A school’s learning performance depends on its individual programs. However, there are differences in the ways that charter schools and traditional public schools are positioned for future progress.

Because they have had more flexibility, many charter schools have been ahead of the game when it comes to adopting cutting-edge programs. For instance, online charter schools have been leading students in a fully online learning environment for years. Now, as schools of all types scramble to move online, those charter schools have already worked out the kinks in online learning and are staffed with distance learning experts.

The result?

Many traditional public schools are now leaping into the online learning space ill-prepared. Ultimately, these issues with unfamiliar technology can lead to overwhelmed instructors and frustrated students. At the same time, the online charter schools that have spent years developing productive online learning communities are equipped to take this high demand for distance learning in stride.

See An Advanced Online Charter School in Action

Although online charter schools appear to be better positioned for positive learning outcomes in the future, not all schools will deliver the same results. Method Schools has consistently delivered positive learning outcomes through a flexible online learning community. Additionally, Method Schools is staffed with distance learning experts, offers NCAA and UC/a-g approved coursework, and focuses on personalized learning.

Want to see how advanced online charter school learning looks in action? Schedule a tour today to see how learning could look for your student.

Take a stroll through our halls-from your own computer. Schedule a virtual tour >

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