Focus on the Family

Public Charter Schools

Pros and cons of charter schools

by Jim Mhoon

Charter schools (also known as community schools) are government-financed schools operated by nongovernmental entities. Typically, they share two distinguishing traits: (1) The entity operating the school is independent of any school district and is not a governmental agency, and (2) they do not serve students within specific attendance boundaries. State charters serve students throughout the state, and district charters serve students throughout the district and allow interdistrict transfers as they are available.

Charter schools are similar to magnet schools in that they seek to appeal to families on the basis of: (1) a unique educational approach, such as classical education or expedition learning; (2) the special needs of families in the community, such as Edison schools, which target low achieving segments of a community or virtual home-based schools such as K-12; and (3) a particular discipline, such as art, humanities, science, or technology.

Charter schools can be small, independent operations or part of a large education company. Some of them are for-profit institutions and some are run by the government.

Like other public schools, charters cannot discriminate based upon race or religion and they must comply with laws restricting religious instruction. However, they seek to distinguish themselves from the regular district model by providing a specialized approach to education. They are also managed separately from the local district with their own board of directors.

Charter schools are similar to magnet programs in that they are opt-in programs populated by students who have chosen to attend the school. Generally, this is a positive indicator of parental involvement. It is vital for parents to understand the charter of a given school and its approach to education. For example, some charter schools seek to serve students who have not managed well in traditional environments. For a high-achieving student, such an environment may not be suitable. Others seek to provide an advanced curriculum or focus on experiential learning or appeal to certain learning styles.

The effectiveness of charter schools is a subject of debate, with some claiming that charters have not demonstrated adequate improvement over more traditional models. Proponents suggest that many charters purposefully appeal to the neediest students.

Meanwhile, some programs are setting new standards in education and out-performing all but the very best, advanced curriculum models. As with other public programs, the true test is whether the particular program in consideration meets the standards you have. You should expect good academics, good parent involvement and direction, qualified teachers, and adequate facilities.

Pros of Charter Schools

Cons of Charter Schools