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Charter schools are elementary or secondary schools in the United States that receive public money but have been freed from some of the rules, regulations, and statutes that apply to other public schools in exchange for some type of accountability for producing certain results, which are set forth in each school's charter.[1] Charter schools are opened and attended by choice.[2] While charter schools provide an alternative to other public schools, they are part of the public education system and are not allowed to charge tuition. Where enrollment in a charter school is over subscribed, admission is frequently allocated by lottery-based admissions. In a 2008 survey of charter schools, 59% of the schools reported that they had a waiting list, averaging 198 students.[3] Some charter schools provide a curriculum that specializes in a certain field—e.g. arts, mathematics, etc. Others attempt to provide a better and more efficient general education than nearby public schools.

Some charter schools are founded by teachers, parents, or activists who feel restricted by traditional public schools.[4] State-authorized charters (schools not chartered by local school districts) are often established by non-profit groups, universities, and some government entities.[5] Additionally, school districts sometimes permit corporations to open chains of for-profit charter schools. In the United States, though the percentage of students educated in charter schools varies by school district, only in the New Orleans Public Schools system are the majority of children educated within independent public charter schools.[6]



The charter school idea in the United States was originated by Ray Budde,[7] a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and embraced by Albert Shanker, President of the American Federation of Teachers, in 1988 when he called for the reform of the public schools by establishing "charter schools" or "schools of choice". At the time, a few schools (which were not called charter schools but embodied some of their principles) already existed, such as H-B Woodlawn. As originally conceived, the ideal model of a charter school was as a legally and financially autonomous public school (without tuition, religious affiliation, or selective student admissions) that would operate much like a private business – free from many state laws and district regulations, and accountable more for student outcomes rather than for processes or inputs (such as Carnegie Units and teacher certification requirements).

Minnesota was the first state to pass a charter school law, in 1991. California was second, in 1992. As of 2009, 41 states and the District of Columbia have charter school laws.[8]

Structure and characteristics

There are two principles that guide charter schools. First is that they will operate as autonomous public schools, through waivers from many of the procedural requirements of district public schools. The second is that charter schools are accountable for student achievement. To date, 12.5% of the over 5000 charter schools founded in the United States have closed for reasons including academic, financial, and managerial problems, and occasionally consolidation or district interference.[9] The rules and structure of charter schools depend on state authorizing legislation and differ from state to state. A charter school is authorized to function once it has received a charter, a statutorily defined performance contract detailing the school's mission, program, goals, students served, methods of assessment, and ways to measure success. The length of time for which charters are granted varies, but most are granted for 3–5 years. Charter schools are held accountable to their sponsor—a local school board, state education agency, university, or other entity—to produce positive academic results and adhere to the charter contract. While this accountability is one of the key arguments in favor of charters, evidence gathered by the United States Department of Education suggests that charter schools are not, in practice, held to higher standards of accountability than traditional public schools. That point can be refuted by examining the number of traditional public schools that have been closed due to students' poor performance on end-of-course/end-of-grade tests. Typically, these schools are allowed to remain open, perhaps with new leadership or restructuring, or perhaps with no change at all. Charter school proponents will assert that charter schools are not given the opportunities to restructure often and are simply closed down when students perform poorly on these assessments.[10]


Chartering authorities

Chartering authorizers, entities that may legally issue charters, differ from state to state, as do the bodies that are legally entitled to apply for and operate under such charters. In some states, like Arkansas, the State Board of Education authorizes charters. In other states, like Maryland, only the local school district may issue charters. States including Arizona and the District of Columbia have created independent charter-authorizing bodies to which applicants may apply for a charter. The laws that permit the most charter development, as seen in Minnesota and Michigan, allow for a combination of such authorizers.[11] Charter applicants may include local school districts, institutions of higher education, non-profit corporations, and, in some states, for-profit corporations. Wisconsin, California, Michigan, and Arizona allow for-profit corporations to operate charter schools. This is cause for concern in the opinion of those educators who are concerned that for-profit charter schools are inherently flawed, as they divert part of the funding that in a traditional public school would be spent entirely on education to maintain profits. According to the National Education Association, for-profit charter schools rarely outperform traditional public schools, even when the charter receives higher funding.[12] Although the U.S. Department of Education's findings agree with those of the NEA, their study points out the limitations of such studies and the inability to hold constant other important factors, and notes that "study design does not allow us to determine whether or not traditional public schools are more effective than charter schools."[10]

Caps on charter schools

According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, twenty-six states and the District of Columbia have some type of limits, or caps, on charter schools. Although an estimated 365,000 students are on charter school wait lists nationwide, these states restrict the number of charter schools that may be authorized and/or the number of students a single school can enroll. Many of these caps are the result of political trade-offs among competing political interests.[13] Andrew Rotherham, co-founder of Education Sector and opponent of charter school caps, has written, "One might be willing to accept this pent-up demand if charter school caps, or the debate over them, were addressing the greater concern of charter school quality. But this is not the case. Statutory caps as they exist now are too blunt a policy instrument to sufficiently address quality. They fail to differentiate between good schools and lousy schools and between successful charter school authorizers and those with a poor track record of running charter schools. And, all the while, they limit public schooling options and choices for parents." [14]


The U.S. Department of Education's 1997 First Year Report, part of a four-year national study on charters, is based on interviews of 225 charter schools in 10 states. Charters tend to be small (fewer than 200 students) and represent primarily new schools, though some schools had converted to charter status. Charter schools often tend to exist in urban locations, rather than rural. This study found enormous variation among states. Charter schools tended to be somewhat more racially diverse, and to enroll slightly fewer students with special needs or limited English proficiency than the average schools in their state.[15]

In 2007, the annual survey produced by the Center for Education Reform, a pro-charter school group, found that 54% of charter school students qualified for free or reduced lunches. This qualification is a common proxy for determining how many low-income students a given school enrolls. The same survey found that half of all charter school students fall into categories that are classified as “at risk.”[16]


Charter school funding is dictated by the state. In many states, charter schools are funded by transferring per-pupil state aid from the school district where the charter school student resides. The Federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Part B, Sections 502 - 511 also authorize funding grants for charter schools. Additionally, charter schools may receive funding from private donors or foundations.

In August 2005, a national report of charter school finance undertaken by the Thomas B. Fordam Institute, a pro-charter group,[17] found that across 16 states and the District of Columbia — which collectively enroll 84 percent of the nation’s one million charter school students — charter schools receive about 22 percent less in per-pupil public funding than the district schools that surround them, a difference of about $1,800. For a typical charter school of 250 students, that amounts to about $450,000 per year. The study asserts that the funding gap is wider in most of twenty-seven urban school districts studied, where it amounts to $2,200 per student, and that in cities like San Diego and Atlanta, charters receive 40% less than traditional public schools. The fiscal inequity is most severe in South Carolina, California, Ohio, Georgia, Wisconsin, and Missouri. The report suggests that the primary driver of the district-charter funding gap is charter schools’ lack of access to local and capital funding.

A 2008 study that looked at charter school funding in all 40 charter states and the District of Columbia found that charter students are funded on average at 61 cents compared to every dollar for their district peers, with charter funding averaging $6,585 per pupil compared to $10,771 per pupil at conventional district public schools.[18]

In contrast, an earlier article from the Education Policy Analysis Archives at Arizona State University in August 2002 suggests that charters in economically depressed areas may receive more funding than the traditional public schools that surround them, placing traditional public schools at a funding disadvantage.[19]

Although charter schools may receive less public funding than traditional public schools, a portion of charter schools' operating costs can come from sources outside public funding (such as private funding in the form of donations). In the case of DC charter schools, private funding was found to have accounted for $780 per pupil and, combined with a higher level of public funding (mostly due to non-district funding), resulted in considerably higher funding for charters than comparable public schools.[20] Without federal funding, private funding, and "other income", DC charter schools received slightly more on average ($8,725 versus $8,676 per pupil), but that funding was more concentrated in the better funded charter schools (as seen by the median DC charter school funding of $7,940 per pupil). With federal, private, and "other income", charter school funding shot up to an average of $11,644 versus the district $10,384 per pupil. The median here showed an even more unequal distribution of the funds with a median of $10,333.[20]

Organizing principles

State laws follow varied sets of key organizing principles based on the Citizens League's recommendations for Minnesota,[21] American Federation of Teachers guidelines, and/or federal charter-school legislation (U.S. Department of Education). Principles govern sponsorship, number of schools, regulatory waivers, degree of fiscal/legal autonomy, and performance expectations.

Current laws have been characterized as either "strong" or "weak." "Strong-law" states mandate considerable autonomy from local labor-management agreements and bureaucracy, allow a significant number of charter schools to be authorized by multiple charter-granting agencies, and allocate a level of funding consistent with the statewide per pupil average. According to the Center for Education Reform, a pro-charter group, in 2008 Minnesota, the District of Columbia, Michigan, Arizona, and California had the "strongest" laws in the nation. Mississippi and Iowa are home to the nation’s "weakest" laws, according to the same ranking.[11]

The vast majority of charter schools (more than 70 percent) are found in states with the "strongest" laws: Arizona, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, and North Carolina.[22]

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, over half of the New Orleans schools that are re-opening are doing so as charter schools.[23]

Charter schools by country

United States

SER-Niños Charter School, a charter school in the Gulfton area of Houston, Texas

Minnesota wrote the first charter school law in the United States in 1991. Since then other states have approved the formation of charter schools. The state government of Texas approved the formation of charter schools in 1995. Early critics feared that charter schools would lure the highest performing and most gifted students from centrally-administered public schools. Instead, charter schools have tended to attract low income, minority, and low performing students.[24] Undoubtedly the most radical experimentation with charter schools has occurred in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The New Orleans Public Schools system is currently engaged in reforms aimed at decentralizing power away from the pre-Katrina school board central bureaucracy to individual school principals and charter school boards, monitoring charter school performance by granting renewable, five-year operating contracts permitting the closure of those not succeeding, and vesting choice in parents of public school students, allowing them to enroll their children in almost any school in the district.[25] The majority of public school students in New Orleans now attend charter schools, the only city in the nation where public charters so dominate.[26]

Charter school in U.S. state jurisdictions

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

New Zealand

Well before American charter schools, New Zealand went much further in granting power to individual schools by abolishing all regional school boards and making each public school independent, with local parent and teacher involvement in decision making.[27] Although not called charter schools, each school does have a charter under which it operates with a board of trustees and has a high degree of autonomy.[citation needed]

While since 1989 there is also provision for Designated Special Character schools, thus far only two have been created. (These are not to be confused with 'state integrated' schools — mostly Catholic,[28] and formerly private — that are 'integrated' into the public school system, while retaining their proprietor — which are required to have a 'special character' in their integration agreement with the Crown that would be preserved by the school's continuance.)

England and Wales

The United Kingdom established grant-maintained schools in England and Wales in 1988[29]. They allowed individual schools that were independent of the local school authority. When they were abolished in 1998, most turned into foundation schools, which are really under their local district authority but still have a high degree of autonomy.


About three years after charter schools were introduced in the U.S., the Canadian province of Alberta allowed charter schools beginning in 1994 with New Horizons Charter School. Two years later, ABC Charter Public School (now Westmount Charter School) formed. Alberta charter schools have much in common with their U.S. counterparts. As of 2005 there are only about a dozen charter schools in the province, compared with over 50 school boards, with the largest one alone having over 200 schools. The idea of charter schools initially sparked great debate and is still controversial, but has had limited impact. No other province in Canada has yet followed Alberta's lead.


Chile has a long history of private subsidized schooling, akin to charter schooling in the United States. Before the 1980s, most private subsidized schools were religious and owned by churches or other private parties, but they received support from the central government. In the 1980s, the dictatorial government of Augusto Pinochet promoted neoliberal reforms in the country, and adopted a competitive voucher system in education. These vouchers could be used in public schools or private subsidized schools (which can be run for profit). After this reform, the number of private subsidized schools, many of them secular, grew from 18.5% of schools in 1980 to 32.7% of schools in 2001.[30]

Evaluations of charter schools

One obvious question charter schools face is whether they actually improve educational outcomes, which is their stated purpose. In the interest of testing this assertion, a number of researchers and organizations have examined educational outcomes for students who attend charter schools.

National Bureau of Economic Research study

In 2004, the National Bureau of Economic Research found data that suggested Charter Schools increase competition in a given jurisdiction, thus improving the quality of traditional public schools (noncharters) in the area. Using end-of-year test scores for grades three through eight from North Carolina's state testing program, researchers found that charter school competition raised the composite test scores in district schools, even though the students leaving district schools for the charters tended to have above average test scores. The introduction of charter schools in the state caused an approximate one percent increase in the score, which constitutes about one quarter of the average yearly growth. The gain was roughly two to five times greater than the gain from decreasing the student-faculty ratio by 1. This research could partially explain how other studies have found a small significant difference in comparing educational outcomes between charter and traditional public schools. It may be that in some cases, charter schools actually improve other public schools by raising educational standards in the area.[31]

American Federation of Teachers study

A study performed by the American Federation of Teachers, which "strongly supports charter schools",[32] found that students attending charter schools tied to school boards do not fare any better or worse statistically in reading and math scores than students attending public schools.[33] This study was conducted as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2003.[34] The study included a sample of 6000 4th grade pupils and was the first national comparison of test scores among children in charter schools and regular public schools. Rod Paige, the U.S. Secretary of Education from 2001 to 2005, issued a statement saying (among other things) that, "according to the authors of the data the Times cites, differences between charter and regular public schools in achievement test scores vanish when examined by race or ethnicity."[35] Additionally, a number of prominent research experts called into question the usefulness of the findings and the interpretation of the data in an advertisement funded by a pro-charter group.[36] Harvard economist Caroline Hoxby also criticized the report and the sample data, saying "An analysis of charter schools that is statistically meaningful requires larger numbers of students."[37]

Caroline Hoxby studies

A 2000 paper by Caroline Hoxby found that charter school students do better than public school students, although this advantage was found only "among white non-Hispanics, males, and students who have a parent with at least a high school degree".[38] This paper was the subject of controversy in 2005 when Princeton assistant professor Jesse Rothstein was unable to replicate her results. Hoxby released a follow up paper in 2004 with Jonah Rockoff, Assistant Professor of Economics and Finance at the Columbia Graduate School of Business, claiming to have again found that charter school students do better than public school students.[37] This second study compared charter school students "to the schools that their students would most likely otherwise attend: the nearest regular public school with a similar racial composition."[37] It reported that the students in charter schools performed better in both math and reading. It also reported that the longer the charter school had been in operation, the more favorably its students compared. Hoxby's methodology in this study has also been criticized, arguing that Hoxby's "assessment of school outcomes is based on the share of students who are proficient at reading or math but not the average test score of the students. That’s like knowing the poverty rate but not the average income of a community — useful but incomplete."[39] How representative the study is has also been criticized as the study is only of students in Chicago.[40]

Learning gains studies

A common approach in peer reviewed academic journals is to compare the learning gains of individual students in charter schools to their gains when they were in traditional public schools. Thus, in effect, each student acts as his/her own control to assess the impact of charter schools. This work generally finds that charter schools on average outperform the traditional public schools that supplied students, at least after the charter school had been in operation for a few years.[41][42][43][44] At the same time, there appears to be a wide variation in the effectiveness of individual charter schools.[44]


A report issued by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools,[45] released in July 2005 and updated in October 2006, looks at twenty-six studies that make some attempt to look at change over time in charter school student or school performance. Twelve of these find that overall gains in charter schools were larger than other public schools; four find charter schools’ gains higher in certain significant categories of schools, such as elementary schools, high schools, or schools serving at risk students; six find comparable gains in charter and traditional public schools; and, four find that charter schools’ overall gains lagged behind. The study also looks at whether individual charter schools improve their performance with age (e.g. after overcoming start-up challenges). Of these, five of seven studies find that as charter schools mature, they improve. The other two find no significant differences between older and younger charter schools.

A more recent synthesis of findings conducted by Vanderbilt University indicates that solid conclusions cannot be drawn from the existing studies, due to their methodological shortcomings and conflicting results, and proposes standards for future meta-analyses.[46]

National Center for Education Statistics study

A study released on August 22, 2006 by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) found that students in charter schools performed several points worse than students in traditional public schools in both reading and math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test.[47] Some proponents consider this the best study as they believe by incorporating basic demographic, regional, or school characteristics simultaneously it "... has shown conclusively, through rigorous, replicated, and representative research, whether charter schools boost student achievement ...", while they say that in the AFT study "... estimates of differences between charter schools and traditional public schools are overstated."[40] Critics of this study argue that its demographic controls are highly unreliable, as percentage of students receiving free lunches does not correlate well to poverty levels, and some charter schools don't offer free lunches at all, skewing their apparent demographics towards higher income levels than actually occur.[48]

United States Department of Education study

In its Evaluation of the Public Charter Schools Program: Final Report released in 2003, the U.S. Department of Education found that, in the five case study states, charter schools were out-performed by traditional public schools in meeting state performance standards, but noted: “It is impossible to know from this study whether that is because of the performance of the schools, the prior achievement of the students, or some other factor.”[10]

Center for Research on Education Outcomes

The most authoritative study of charter schools was conducted by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University in 2009. The report is the first detailed national assessment of charter schools. It analyzed 70% of the nation's students attending charter schools and compared the academic progress of those students with that of demographically matched students in nearby public schools. The report found that 17% of charter schools reported academic gains that were significantly better than traditional public schools; 46% showed no difference from public schools; and 37% were significantly worse than their traditional public school counterparts. The authors of the report considering this a "sobering" finding about the quality of charter schools in the U.S. Charter schools showed a significantly greater variation in quality as compared with the more standardized public schools with many falling below public school performances and a few exceeding them significantly. Results vary for various demographics with Black and Hispanic children not doing as well as they would in public schools, but with children from poverty backgrounds, students learning English, and brighter students doing better; average students do poorer. While the obvious solution to the widely varying quality of charter schools would be to close those who perform below the level of public schools, this is hard to accomplish in practice as even a poor school has its supporters.[49]

Policy and practice

As more states start charter schools, there is increasing speculation about upcoming legislation. In an innovation-diffusion study surveying education policy experts in fifty states, Michael Mintrom and Sandra Vergari (1997) found that charter legislation is more likely to be considered in states with poor test scores, Republican legislative control, and proximity to other states with charter schools. Legislative enthusiasm, gubernatorial support, interactions with national authorities, and use of permissive charter-law models increase the chances for adopting what they consider stronger laws. He feels union support and restrictive models lead to adoption of what he considers weaker laws.

The threat of vouchers, wavering support for public education, and bipartisan support for charters has led some unions to start charters themselves. Several AFT chapters, such as those in Houston and Dallas, have themselves started charters. The National Education Association has allocated $1.5 million to help members start charter schools. Proponents claim that charters offer teachers a measure of empowerment, employee ownership, and governance that might be enhanced by union assistance (Nathan). Former President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act also promotes charter schools.

Over two dozen private management companies are scrambling to increase their 10 percent share of a "more hospitable and entrepreneurial market" (Stecklow 1997). Boston-based Advantage Schools Inc., a corporation specializing in for-profit schooling, has contracted to run charter schools in New Jersey, Arizona, and North Carolina. The Education Development Corporation was planning in the summer of 1997 to manage nine nonsectarian charter schools in Michigan, using cost-cutting measures employed in Christian schools.

Charter school popularity

Charter schools provide an alternative for educators, families and communities who are dissatisfied with educational quality and school district bureaucracies at noncharter schools. In early 2008, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, a pro-charter organization, conducted two polls in Idaho and Nevada where they asked parents about their preferences concerning education. In Idaho, only 12% of respondents said that their regular public school was their top choice for the children’s school. Most preferred private schools over other options.[50] In 2008, Polls in Georgia[51] and Wyoming[52] found similar results.

The charter approach uses market principles from the private sector, including accountability and consumer choice, to offer new public sector options that remain nonsectarian and non-exclusive. Many people, such as former President Bill Clinton, see charter schools, with their emphasis on autonomy and accountability, as a workable political compromise and an alternative to vouchers. Others, such as former President George W. Bush, see charter schools as a way to improve schools without antagonizing the teachers' union. Bush made charter schools a major part of his No Child Left Behind Act. Despite these endorsements, a recent report by the AFT, has shown charter schools not faring as well as public schools on state administered standardized testing,[53] though the report has been heavily criticized.[54][55] Other charter school opponents have examined the competing claims and suggest that most students in charter schools perform the same or worse than their traditional public school counterparts on standardized tests.[56]

Both charter school proponents and critics admit that individual schools of public choice have the potential to develop into successful or unsuccessful models. In a May 2009 policy report issued by Education Sector, "Food for Thought: Building a High-Quality School Choice Market"[57], author Erin Dillon argues that market forces alone will not provide the necessary supply and demand for excellent public schools, especially in low-income, urban neighborhoods that often witness low student achievement. According to Dillon, "In order to pressure all public schools to improve and to raise student achievement overall, school choice reforms need to not just increase the supply of any schools. They need to increase the supply of good schools, and parents who know how to find them." Drawing lessons from successful food and banking enterprises located in poor, inner-city neighborhoods, the report recommends that policymakers enhance the charter school market by providing more information to consumers, forging community partnerships, allowing for more flexible school financing, and mapping the quality of the education market.

Debate over funding

Nearly all charter schools face implementation obstacles, but newly created schools are most vulnerable. Some charter advocates claim that new charters tend to be plagued by resource limitations, particularly inadequate startup funds. Yet a few charter schools also attract large amounts of interest and money from private foundations such as the Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation and the Broad Foundation.

Although charter advocates recommend the schools control all per-pupil funds, charter advocates claim that their schools rarely receive as much funding as other public schools. In reality, this is not necessarily the case in the complex world of school funding. Charter schools in California were guaranteed a set amount of district funding that in some districts amounted to $800 per student per year more than traditional public schools received until a new law was passed that took effect in fall 2006. Charter advocates claim that their schools generally lack access to funding for facilities and special program funds distributed on a district basis.[58] Sometimes private businesses and foundations, such as the Ameritech Corporation in Michigan and the Annenberg Fund in California, provide support.[59] Congress and the President allocated $80 million to support charter-school activities in fiscal year 1998, up from $51 million in 1997. Despite the possibility of additional private and non-district funding, a government study showed that charter school may still lag behind traditional public school achievement.[60]

Charters sometimes face opposition from local boards, state education agencies, and unions. Many educators are concerned that charter schools might siphon off badly needed funds for regular schools, as well as students. In addition, public-school advocates assert that charter schools are designed to compete with public schools in a destructive and harmful manner rather than work in harmony with them. To minimize these harmful effects, the American Federation of Teachers urges that charter schools adopt high standards, hire only certified teachers, and "maintain teachers' collective-bargaining rights"—meaning require the teachers to join a teachers' union.

Critiques of charter schools

Difficulties with accountability

The basic concept of charter schools is that they exercise increased autonomy in return for greater accountability. They are meant to be held accountable for both academic results and fiscal practices to several groups, including the sponsor that grants them, the parents who choose them, and the public that funds them. Charter schools can theoretically be closed for failing to meet the terms set forth in their charter, but in practice, this can be difficult, divisive, and controversial. One example was the 2003 revocation of the charter for a school called Urban Pioneer in the San Francisco Unified School District, which first came under scrutiny when two students died on a school wilderness outing.[61] An auditor's report found that the school was in financial disarray[62] and posted the lowest test scores of any school in the district except those serving entirely non-English-speakers.[63] It was also accused of academic fraud, graduating students with far fewer than the required credits.[61] There is also the case of California Charter Academy, where a publicly funded but privately run chain of 60 charter schools became insolvent in August 2004, despite a budget of $100 million dollars, which left thousands of children without a school to attend.[40]

In March 2009, the Center for Education Reform released its latest data on charter school closures. At that time they found that 657 of the more than 5250 charter schools that have ever opened had closed, for reasons ranging from district consolidation to failure to attract students. The study found that "41 percent of the nation's charter closures resulted from financial deficiencies caused by either low student enrollment or inequitable funding," while 14% had closed due to poor academic performance. The report also found that the absence of achievement data "correlates directly with the weakness of a state's charter school law. For example, states like Iowa, Mississippi, Virginia and Wyoming have laws ranked either "D" or "F". Progress among these schools has not been tracked objectively or clearly."[9] A 2005 paper found that in Connecticut, which it characterized as having been highly selective in approving charter applications, a relatively large proportion of poorly performing charter schools have closed.[64] Under Connecticut's relatively weak charter law[65], only 21 charter schools have opened in all, and of those, five have closed.[66] Of those, 3 closed for financial reasons. Charter school students in Connecticut are funded on average $4,278 less than regular public school students.[18]

In a September 2007 public policy report, education experts Andrew Rotherham and Sara Mead of Education Sector offered a series of recommendations to improve charter school quality through increased accountability. Some of their recommendations urged policymakers to: (i) provide more public oversight of charter school authorizers, including the removal of poor-quality authorizers, (ii) improve the quality of student performance data with more longitudinal student-linked data and multiple measures of school performance, and (iii) clarify state laws related to charter school closure, especially the treatment of displaced students.[67]

Distribution of funds

Additional concerns arise when, as in Michigan, charter schools are run for profit. Many educators worry that education will suffer when funding is split between profit and educational spending, rather than going completely toward educational spending as is done in traditional public schools.[citation needed] Studies have already shown many instances of charter schools cutting programs or refusing to educate students with special needs in order to maintain profitability.[68] Charter schools in Michigan, where for-profit charter schools are common, have performed at a lower level than their traditional public school counterparts.[64]

Collective bargaining

Concern has also been raised about the exemption of charter school teachers from states' collective bargaining laws, especially because "charter school teachers are even more likely than traditional public school teachers to be beset by the burn-out caused by working long hours, in poor facilities."[69] It has recently been noted that "an increasing number of teachers at charter schools" are now attempting to restore collective bargaining rights.[70]

Racial segregation

In an article written for the journal Contexts, Linda A. Renzulli, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Georgia, and Vincent J. Roscigno, coeditor of the American Sociological Review, use Renzulli's own research as well as research by Amy Stuart Wells, Professor of Sociology and Education and the Coordinator of Policy Studies at Teachers College at Columbia University, to state that Charter Schools increase racial segregation.[40]

Other critiques

Professor Frank Smith, of Teachers College, Columbia University, sees the charter-school movement as a chance to involve entire communities in redesigning all schools and converting them to "client-centered, learning cultures" (1997). He favors the Advocacy Center Design process used by state-appointed Superintendent Laval Wilson to transform four failing New Jersey schools. Building stronger communities via newly designed institutions may prove more productive than charters' typical "free-the-teacher-and-parent" approach.

It is as yet unclear whether charters' lackluster test results will affect the enacting of future legislation. A Pennsylvania legislator who voted to create charter schools, State Rep. Mark B. Cohen of Philadelphia, said that "Charter schools offer increased flexibility to parents and administrators, but at a cost of reduced job security to school personnel. The evidence to date shows that the higher turnover of staff undermines school performance more than it enhances it, and that the problems of urban education are far too great for enhanced managerial authority to solve in the absence of far greater resources of staff, technology, and state of the art buildings."

See also


  1. ^ "Charter Schools". National Education Association. Retrieved January 21, 2008. 
  2. ^ "Charter Connection". The Center for Education Reform. Retrieved September 19, 2009. 
  3. ^ "Annual Survey of America's Charter Schools 2008". Center for Education Reform. July 28, 2008. Retrieved September 19, 2009. 
  4. ^ "Research Center: Charter Schools". Education Week. September 10, 2004. Retrieved January 1, 2008. 
  5. ^ Eskenazi, Stuart (July 22, 1999). "Learning Curves". Houston Press. Retrieved January 21, 2008. 
  6. ^ RSD looks at making charters pay rent, The Times-Picayune, December 18, 2009.
  7. ^ Kolderie, Ted (July 1, 2005). "Ray Budde and the Origins of the Charter Concept". Center for Education Reform. 
  8. ^ "Charter School Laws Across the States". Center for Education Reform. 
  9. ^ a b Center for Education Reform (March 2009). "Accountability Lies at the Heart of Charter School Success". Press release. 
  10. ^ a b c "Executive Summary--Evaluation of the Public Charter Schools Program: Final Report". US Department of Education. November 19, 2004. Retrieved July 27, 2009. 
  11. ^ a b Center for Education Reform (June 15, 2009). "Charter Laws Graded and Ranked State By State". Press release. Retrieved July 27, 2009. 
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Further reading

  • Perez, Shivaun, "Assessing Service Learning Using Pragmatic Principles of Education: A Texas Charter School Case Study" (2000). Applied Research Projects. Texas State University. Paper 76.

External links

Founded in 1999 by a coalition of public charter schools, the Student Support Center (SSC) builds complete, self-sustaining school and community-based programs that break cycles of poverty, academic failure, substance abuse, and mental illness.


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