Charter Schools

Charter Schools

Problem: A failing public education system

Solution: Charter schools

Business Perspective:  Providing government funding for private educational operators allows parents and children to have a choice in their education. 

What are charter schools?

Charter schools are independently operated public schools that are under contract with a charter school authorizer (typically a university, government agency, or nonprofit organization). These agencies are responsible for holding the school accountable to the standards written in its charter. There are more than 7,000 charter schools in the United States, each unique in its own way. One charter school may decide to focus on preparing students for college. Another may follow a STEM curriculum, and a third may decide to heavily integrate the arts into every subject. Policies, rules, and procedures typically differ with every charter school as well. While one charter school may require students to wear uniforms, another school may not. Other examples of unique policies associated with different charter schools include longer school days, the teaching of multiple languages instead of one, and progressive grading systems. The possibilities are endless. Charter schools exist in 43 states and are attended by over 3.2 million students. Approximately one million students sit on wait-lists to get into charter schools.The vast majority of charter schools are managed by nonprofit organizations or entities; less than 15% are managed by for-profits. However, every charter school is tuition-free. 

How are charter schools solving the problem?

Charter schools are a popular alternative to the public school system. They differ from private schools in that they are tuition-free, yet they offer more expansive educational options than a public school. In 1990, the United States public school system was ranked sixth in education compared to the rest of the world. 26 years later, the United States ranking had declined to 27th in the world. Students in the United States ranked 38th in math and 24th in science. A likely reason for this massive decline was that government spending on elementary and high-school education fell three percent between 2010 and 2014, even as the student population grew by one percent. Charter schools solve this problem by giving teachers and administrators the freedom to tailor their classrooms to fit the needs of their students, instead of being restricted to a generic curriculum. Public schools have had issues with too much wasted funding, whereas charter schools can decide to use funding to fit a variety of specific needs related to the individual school. Charter schools also offer more education opportunities to minorities and lower-income families. Besides location, there are no requirements to attend a charter school. This means that families who couldn’t afford to send their children to private schools can now send them to charter schools. Compared to those in public schools, students attending charter schools have a higher probability of graduating and attending college.

What are some issues with charter schools?

Some of the benefits of charter schools are also weaknesses. For example, since charter schools have the freedom to decide what methods of teaching to use, some of the methods they choose are experimental. This can lead to some schools underperforming compared to public schools in the same area. Also, there’s a large range in charter school quality. 200 charter schools close a year due to academic shortcomings, flawed leadership and governance, financial problems, and/or a decline in student demand.

The number one criticism of charter schools is that they take funding from district schools in states where funding is based on the number of students. Some states, such as Massachusetts, have reimbursed public schools for these funds, but critics argue that schools are still unable to cover fixed operating costs. Another argument against charter schools is that they drain the public school system of its most talented teachers and innovative faculty members due to the freedom many charter schools give to experiment with different methods of teaching. Finally, there are those who fear that charter schools accept fewer Black and Hispanic students than White and Asian. However, statistics show that this is likely not true and demographics at charter schools are similar to public schools in the same area. 

What’s the environmental impact of charter schools? 

Although charter schools as a whole do not directly affect the environment, individual schools can definitely make an impact. Charter schools have freedom on what and how they teach, and a few use that freedom to focus on making positive changes for a greener world. At Environmental Charter High School (ECHS) in Los Angeles, for instance, students learn about environmental issues and then, as part of their classwork, collaborate to create solutions to these issues. Teachers emphasize sustainability in their lessons. For example, during English class, a teacher may assign reading material that discusses the negative impacts of water contamination and street pollution. In History class, the students may listen to a lecture about environmental racism and how people were — and still are — affected by it.