Public Schools

Exactly what is a Charter School? Confusion around the Campaign Trail and Elsewhere


At a recent Democratic Town Hall hosted by CNN, Bernie Sanders said, \”I have confidence in public education and I believe in public places charter schools. I don't have confidence in privately controlled charter schools.\” The difficulty with that statement, based on National Public Radio (NPR), is the fact that all charter schools are public, with varying amounts of private control.

At the most basic level, it should be no surprise that charter schools are public. If they weren't public, they would be private schools just like the many parochial and schools present in the U.S. for hundreds of years.

Charter schools were developed in an effort to provide educational alternatives within the public school system. The design goals included involving parents and teachers more meaningfully in their schools and allowing those schools to adjust to the initial learning and cultural needs of the students. Many public school districts offered their charter schools waivers from some rules and policies believed to increase educational costs and interfere with effective learning.

The educational alternatives provided by charter schools look not the same as community to community and state to state, with varying amounts of autonomy and site-based governance authority. Additionally, you will find for-profit companies with a business design to arrange and run a portion of charter schools for public school districts. One key trend is the slowing development of new \”independent\” charter schools and the growth of large nonprofit charter management organizations (CMOs) and education management organizations (EMOs). Ironically, the site-based management goals of the charter school pioneers is at odds with regional or national nonprofits setting organization-wide policies and goals for \”their\” charter schools.

Charter schools are an ever more important education issue, especially in a few of the nation’s urban centers. NPR reports that 2.25 million children in the U.S. attend about 6,500 charter schools. Over one-third of kids in Detroit and Washington, D.C., are served by charter schools, and 90 percent of New Orleans students attend charter schools.

Developing good education policy will need to start with developing understanding and good definitions for that number of charter school education models currently in use.

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