As the school choice movement gains momentum nationwide, charter schools are becoming mainstream in education. Charter schools-- which are publicly funded independent schools-- have greater operational freedom than traditional public schools. The flexibility given to charter schools comes at a price; namely, increased accountability for performance. While increasingly more parents are choosing charter schools for their children, there are still many myths regarding school choice-- and charter schools in particular-- that continue to circulate. Let's discuss six of the most common myths and the truth behind the misconceptions:
Charter schools are synonymous with private schools. Charter schools are not private schools; they are public schools open to all students. In fact, charter schools are a free alternative for families who might not be happy with their neighborhood school but can't afford to send their children to private school. While private schools often have highly competitive admissions processes that result in underperforming students being rejected, charter schools are open to everyone. When the number of applications exceeds the number of seats available, charter schools hold a public lottery to ensure that the admissions process is not selective.
Charter schools don't perform as well as traditional public schools. Critics of the school choice movement claim that charter schools don't perform as well academically as their traditional counterparts. However, many studies conducted over the last decade tell a very different story. These studies found that most charter schools perform as well or better than traditional public schools.
Charter schools steal funding away from neighborhood schools. The most vocal opponents of the school choice movement feel that charter schools are robbing traditional public schools of much-needed funding. Charter schools are, in fact, publicly funded. However, many parents are choosing charter schools for their children because their neighborhood schools are failing. If charter schools are able to provide students with a quality education that traditional neighborhood schools are lacking, then they are deserving of the state's per-pupil funding.
Charter schools alienate low income and underperforming students. Another widely perpetuated myth is that charter schools cater to privileged students and exclude disadvantaged students. The reality is that it is often the previously underperforming students who make the greatest gains in the charter school system. Consider this finding from California's charter schools:
"Among traditionally disadvantaged students, those attending charters make greater academic progress than those in traditional public schools. In 2009-10, 74% of charter schools met student achievement targets for disadvantaged students compared to 59% of non-charter schools."
All charter schools are the same. If you've seen one charter school you've seen them all, right? Absolutely not. There are many types of charter schools with a variety of focuses. Some may focus on the performing arts, while others specialize in STEM education. Others may have a project based learning curriculum or use a Montessori approach. Some charter schools provide a classical education, while others specialize in a unique niche, such as training students for careers in the aviation industry. Simply put: no two charter schools are exactly alike.
Charter schools aren't accountable to the public. Charter schools have specific goals for student achievement spelled out in their charters. Those schools who do not reach their goals are at risk of losing their charters. Charter schools are also accountable to their students, parents, and the community. For example, if parents are not happy with the way the school is performing, they can simply remove their student from the school in favor of another charter or traditional school.
All parents want to make the best educational choices for their children. This means having a full understanding of all available options and the ability to discern myth from reality. For more information about charter schools, please contact us today.