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March 30, 2021

5 min

Dr. Jessica Spallino

The Rise of Charter Schools in the California Education System

Charter schools have catapulted in popularity within the California education system in recent years. Beneath this rise in prominence and popularity, there is a fundamental shift shaking the California education system. Those changes could soon affect your child’s education, if they haven’t already.

Wondering what has caused this unprecedented popularity of charter schools in the California education system? In this article, we examine the rise of charter schools and lay out what it could mean for your child’s education.

What Is the Role of Charter Schools in the California Education System?

Before looking at the rise of charter schools in California, it is worth identifying how charter schools operate and how they’re different from traditional public schools. Public charter schools are learning institutions that, like traditional public schools, are free to the public to attend. Much like traditional public schools, they also receive public funding.

However, unlike traditional public schools, charter schools don’t rely on regional school boards within the California education system. Instead, they’re run by independent boards and need to uphold standards set by charters. Although charter schools still have to follow national laws and California legislation, they don’t need to answer to California school boards.

According to the California Department of Education, charter schools are also bound by a few clear restrictions:

  • Private schools can’t be converted into public charter schools.
  • Charter schools can’t be directly related to or run by religious or political groups.
  • Charters cannot discriminate or charge tuition.
  • Charter schools have to admit students who want to attend, but if enrollment surpasses capacity, the school can use a public lottery to admit students.

The History and Rise of Charter Schools in California Education

Although the first charter school started in Minnesota, California was the second state to create charter school legislation. Here are a few important events marking the rise of charter schools in the California Education System:

  • In 1992, legislation was passed that made way for the first charter schools in the state. Initial legislation capped the total number of charter schools in California at 100 schools.
  • In 1998, the cap was lifted to 250 and laws allowed that limit to grow by 100 schools every year.
  • In 2000, California voters passed Proposition 39, which opened district facilities up to charter students.

In recent years, charter schools in the California education system have skyrocketed in popularity. Over 10 years, from 2008 to 2018, the number of charter schools in California more than doubled. Charter school enrollment has soared beyond 650,000 students in California, and there are now more than 1,300 California charter schools with at least one charter school in 54 of California’s 58 counties.

Here’s a quick guide to what you can expect from online school.

What Is Causing This Rapid Rise of Charters in California Education?

The burst in the popularity of charter schools in California is because of a wide combination of factors, but here are some likely drivers causing charters to rise quickly through the California education system.

High-Performing Charters

Although a school’s learning results depend heavily on the individual program, there are high-performing charters that deliver powerful learning outcomes throughout the state. Because charter schools have the flexibility to implement cutting-edge learning techniques, they’re set up to accelerate learning, drive personal outcomes, and spark meaningful learning results.

Free School Choice

Prior to the emergence of charter schools, learners had little choice when it came to education. If they wanted to attend a free public school, they were stuck with the traditional public school in their district. Public charter schools give students a free, public education option that is often more aligned with their needs.

Flexible Classrooms

Because charter schools aren’t bogged down by the red tape that comes with regional school districts, they are able to adopt advanced teaching methods more quickly than traditional schools can and help address gaps in learning. In many cases, parents are recognizing the benefits of advanced learning methods, flexible schedules, and other better learning options their students can get at charter schools.

Personalized Learning

With extra flexibility at their fingertips, many charter school instructors are using self-paced and personalized learning to adjust to the learner’s needs. Self-paced learning programs let students spend more time on challenging subjects and advance at their own pace. Ultimately, these personalized techniques are inspiring more in-depth learning progress.

Distance Learning Experts

Because charter schools have the flexibility to use new learning methods, some online charters have spent years mastering distance learning. Now, as schools of all kinds race into the online learning sphere, those online charter schools that have been leading students online for years are already staffed with distance learning experts. This makes for a more fluid online learning experience and fewer frustrating learning interruptions.

Where Is Education in the California Education System Headed?

In many areas throughout the state, students have been steadily flowing out of district schools and into charter schools. For instance, in the decade following 2000, charter school enrollment in Oakland more than tripled. Now, as more schools of all types move to online classrooms, those online charter schools that have been fully online for years are becoming even more attractive.


Ninety-five percent of parents with school-age children say their children have experienced some form of distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this trend is more than a one-off result of the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, online education was expanding rapidly. The pandemic has kicked that trend into overdrive.

What does the move toward online education mean for charter schools and your child’s education?

As more and more parents wake up to the advantages of online learning, experienced distance learning teams are positioned to deliver a higher quality of online learning. Within the K-12 education system in California, that could lead to an even bigger boom in charter school popularity.

What’s more, as technology continues to improve, those schools that are positioned as early adopters could easily race ahead of institutions that need to get buy-in from massive school boards for every decision. Ultimately, technology and learning preferences could be converging to propel charter schools to the forefront of the California education system.

Discover More About Online Learning

As charter schools become a growing force in the California education system, they are opening up new opportunities for advanced online learning. If you’re a parent considering online learning for your child, it helps to know what you can expect. We have a resource that will give you a glimpse into online school before your child transitions online. Download our guide, What to Expect from an Online School with Method Schools, for an in-depth look at how online learning works with Method Schools.

A bit stumped about online school? We’ve got you covered. Here’s your guide on what to expect. Get Our Free Guide >>

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