Charter School Basics
Charter School Basics
Ref Rodriguez (CEO) gives expert video advice on: What is the purpose of a charter school?; Do charter schools charge tuition?; Why is the charter movement growing? and more...
What is a charter school?
A charter school is a public school. It is funded by the state and the federal government, but it is autonomous from a traditional public school district. That is, parents, teachers, and communities can start charter schools. It's essentially a charter, as the term applies, as a contract. It is a contract between the entity or the group of people starting the charter school and the state in which they're chartered. That contract alienates the agreement, how the curriculum will be delivered, what the curriculum will be, how it will meet the standards set by the state, and more importantly how it will be different from what's being offered in the traditional public school system.
What is the purpose of a charter school?
The specific purpose of charter school is to increase student achievement. Particularly for students considered at risk, so students who are low income, students who have traditionally not represented in colleges or universities, students who are first generation immigrants example in the United states, or students who are English languages learners, or students who speak a different language at home. That is the primary purpose for certain charter schools. Secondly is to provide parental choice, providing parents with a choice in the type of school that they want for their children . And lastly, to provide teachers a choice where they want to work, for example. As well as what type of innovative program they want to be a part of. So all charter schools are not the same and provides parents a choice for their children and provides teachers with ja choice of where they want to work.
Why would I want to send my child to a charter school?
I believe that parents, teachers, students, founders of the school, and communities are passionate about charter school. This is really because it's theirs - it's something that they create, it's something they are part of, and it's something they own. A parent who sends their kids to a charter school by and large they'll never send them to another type of school. A teacher who works in charter school by and large will not work anywhere else but a charter school. Again it's the ownership, it's the belief that the school belongs to them, that they are directly responsible of whether this school works or not. It is Americans, we like ownership! We like to believe that we control our destiny, that we control what's happening in our classrooms and in our life. That's why people are passionate about charter schools. They belong to the communities that they serve.
How are charter schools funded?
Charter schools are funded by the state and federal governments. Like a traditional public school, charter schools receive funding from their state as well as their local property taxes. They also receive federal monies for things like what's called 'Title 1', which is funds for targeted students like those that are low income or English language learners. There's essentially three pots of money for charter schools - the same three pots of money that are afforded to traditional public schools.
Do charter schools charge tuition?
Charter schools are public schools so, therefore, as a public school they cannot charge tuition. That is a big misconception amongst people that do not know charter schools. They believe charter schools are private schools and, therefore, those that attend pay tuition but no, in fact, a charter school is completely free.
How are charter schools formed?
Charter schools are formed by anyone really. It could be teachers, it could be parents, a collaboration between teachers and parents, or in some cases by non-profits or community based organizations who really have an idea to do something different for communities. They are asked to write a charter or a contract that has very delineated items such as what the curriculum will be, where the school will be housed, who it will attempt to serve, and what the measurable people outcomes will be. That is, what are the students going to achieve once they go through this program, and the health and welfare of the employees. Other items like that are contained in this contract or in this charter. Those are then presented to a governing body, in some cases a school district, in other cases a university, and in other cases the mayor's office that oversees and approves charters. This governing body determines whether or not the charter will be approved. Once the charter is approved, that group, that individual, that community-based organization, goes off and opens doors and starts to enrol students.
Who can form a charter school?
Charter schools may be formed by individuals, by a collaborative of teachers, by parents, by community-based organizations, or a mix of all of them. Basically anybody can apply for a charter school, as long as they've got a good idea, as long as they've got a reasonable instructional program in design, and equally important, as long as they can prove through the chartering process that they can get a school up and running. The legislation that started charter schools was really about what would be called “letting a thousand flowers bloom” and seeing how many of those flowers stayed and continued. It was really an experiment to try to do innovative types of schools. So really anybody could apply for a charter school.
Why is the charter movement growing?
I believe the charter movement is growing because the traditional public schools continue to fail our kids in many ways, with graduation rates of fifty per cent in some cases where students went over ninth grade. Fifty per cent of those are not going to graduate high school. There seems to be a thirst in this country for better forms of education, so I believe that as a result of that, many charter schools have started to try address that gap, what we call the "achievement gap,". In 2007, for example, there are over three thousand charter schools operating in the United States. And I believe, personally, that in the next five years, that number will double as traditional public schools continue to fail our most needy kids: our kids from low incomes, our kids from minority backgrounds, and our kids who are first generation in this country. Personally, I believe that families are getting more sappy about what they want for their children, and as a result they don't want what exists in traditional public schools.
Do districts or states limit the number of charters?
In some states, there is what's called a cap on charter schools. For example, in the state of California, there is a cap to the number of charter schools that can be opened each year. That number happens to be 100. In other states, for example, like New York, there's a cap overall. Only x number of charter schools can be opened overall. Some school districts who approve charter schools have also decided that they will cap the number that that district will approve. So it all depends on state by state, district by district, region by region in some cases. So yes, there is a cap on the number of charter schools that can be opened.
Why are some districts and state governments turning to charters?
There is a sense of frustration in the United States about the achievement level of all kids. State legislatures, and school Districts are having lots of trouble meeting the needs of all students and there seems to be a sense of urgency right now with respect to 'What are we doing about the education of our kids?". Everybody's worried about the future, and I believe that the Charter Schools have been a good instrument for all types of politicians and bureaucrats to rally around, and to say this could be a way in which we are going to achieve what we need to; in order to increase achievement for all students. In some places, larger Urban districts, for example, Charter schools are being used as a way to open new schools without costly facilities development. New York, for example, is using Charter schools as a way to meet the needs of their programming for the amounts of students that are being infused into that school system. In Los Angeles, for example, there's also lots of Charter schools cropping around in areas where there is high need for seats. This means, that the School District there can not open buildings fast enough to be able to meet the needs of those communities. In some cases, the students that live in those neighborhoods have to catch the bus to far away areas for the students to go to school, and Charter schools are being seen as a way to start up new schools very quickly. So, students don't have to be use the bus out of their neighborhoods and still attend a public school.