Charter schools differ from public schools in that they are formed by members of the community. They are controlled and held accountable by educators and parents. This practice theoretically leads to a superior learning environment. Before becoming operational, charter schools must formally agree to abide by the academic standards set by the state which are usually monitored by the closest school district. If they do not meet those standards, the school will be forced to close by the state.
The charter school must also meet the requirements outlined in the charter [contract] made between the educators and those in the community that authorized the school or be forced to close Studies have shown this is largely the case although it must be taken into account that charter schools are a relatively new concept, therefore, the evidence should be considered somewhat less than conclusive.
Adaptation, the Charter Advantage
The school’s charter outlines the method by which the school will be governed as well as the level of performance students are expected to achieve within a given time. The charter’s duration is generally for three to five years after which its performance is evaluated by the group that authorized it. If those performance goals are met, the charter is renewed as are efforts for funding. “Among the reasons for the strong performance of charter school students are the schools’ flexibility on scheduling and instruction, their ability to hire and fire staff based on performance and a relentless focus on student outcomes” (Finder, 2003).
The ‘theory of action’ upon which charter schools are founded is the concept that school accountability leads to a better education for students. The theory proposes that “if schools are empowered to make their own decisions through school site autonomy and deregulation and they are schools of choice that must attract educators to work in them and families to attend, then the schools will work to innovate, to improve teaching and learning and the result will be increased parent satisfaction and improved student achievement” (Brewer & Wohlstetter, 2005).
Reading and Writing
In New York City, eighth-grade charter school students have a higher likelihood to be reading and writing at an appropriate grade level than are eighth-grade public school students according to tests performed for a New York Times analysis (Finder, 2003). 50 percent of middle school students enrolled in the six-city charter schools performed at or above their grade level as measured by the state’s English exam.
By contrast, less than a third of similar aged public-school students performed at grade level. Positive results in charter schools resulted in a boost of one and a half percent attendance rate in 2003 while enrollment in New York’s public schools declined by close to three percent the same year. New York City charter school fourth-grade students performed at about the same level in reading comprehension as public-school students of the same grade level. Both gained significantly as compared to the previous year.
60 percent of public school fourth-graders read at grade level in 2003 which was a 10 percent increase over 2002 (Finder, 2003).
Overall Higher Performance
In terms of overall performance, fourth-graders in New York City’s 16 elementary charter schools performed at only somewhat higher levels than their counterparts in the city’s public schools. Performance levels begin to favor the charter school students as the groups progress from fourth to eighth grade. The charter school study completed for the Times produced similar results as the study conducted by the New York City Center for Charter School Excellence (Finder, 2003). Nationally, the charter school students averaged a five percent higher reading proficiency and three percent higher in mathematics (Hoxby, 2004).
A comprehensive study in California discovered that, on average, charter schools based in public school classrooms outperformed conventional public schools. However, charter schools based outside of traditional classrooms do not perform as well as public schools. (Brewer & Wohlstetter, 2005). According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress when the social and ethnic backgrounds of students are fully incorporated in studies comparing charter to public school systems, math scores are consistently higher for public elementary school children. The score was similar for secondary-level students. “The results raise further questions about the assumed academic benefits of private, as well as charter, schools. The results also raise doubts about how effectively parental choice can influence school quality.” (NAEP) (Chamberlain, 2006)
The consensus researchers have reached is that students received a better quality education when parents, educators, and the students themselves are involved in decisions involving the educational process. A consensus of studies indicates that, for this reason, charter schools consistently outperform conventional public schools. Charter schools have steadily increased in the number and varieties of educational experiences offered. The method through which charter schools are formed, which brings members of the community together in a single effort, gives them the potential to create better students and better communities.
Brewer, D & Wohlstetter, P. “Charter Schools Come of Age.” USC Urban Ed. Los Angeles, CA: Rossier School of Education, (2005). Web.
Chamberlain, Craig. “Public schools equal or better in math than private or charter schools” University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (2006). Web.
Finder, Alan. “Charter School 8th Graders Outdo City Public School Pupils, Data Shows.” New York Times. (2005). Web.
Hoxby, Caroline M. A Straightforward Comparison of Charter Schools and Regular Public Schools in the United States. (2004). Harvard University and the National Bureau of Economic Research. Web.