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Topic Overview
What is a Public Charter School?Charter Schools are independent public schools that are allowed freedom to be more innovative, while being held accountable for student achievement. Public charter schools are intended to improve our nation’s public school system; allowing parents to be more involved with their students’ education, giving teachers the freedom in the classroom to be creative while teaching, and giving students the necessary structure needed to learn, all holding each party accountable for student achievement. Public charter schools are considered public schools because they are tuition-free and funded by local, state, and federal tax dollars. The funding is based off enrollment as with any traditional public school and they are held accountable for state and federal academic standards.
Misconceptions
Myth #1: Charter school students don’t have to take standardized testing.
This is false. Charter schools may have a little bit more flexibility on how curriculum choices and how to teach, but they are still public schools and are subject to standardized testing requirements as required by their state and school district.

Myth #2: Charter schools can choose who they let in.
Admission is always required to be open for charter schools. If there are more applicants than there are spots in the school for them, the attendees are decided by lottery. Charter schools are not allowed to reject students any more than other public schools are.

Myth #3: Charter school financing takes away money intended for other public schools.
Charter schools are funded by money given from the state, not from the individual school district. None of the money designated for public school education in your district is being given away to a charter school.

Myth #4: Charter schools will not provide services for special education students.
Charter schools, like all public schools, must work to help students of all ability levels learn. In fact, because of greater flexibility in choice of curriculum and teaching methods, charter schools actually have the opportunity to provide better care and accommodations to students with special needs.

Myth #5: Charter schools can hire whomever they want to teach.
Like all public schools, charter school instructors must be state-certified teachers who are qualified to teach in their subject area. Private schools are the only educational facilities that can hire non-certified instructors to teach their courses.

School ImprovementStudents across the county are placed in low-performing schools and are unable to go to higher performing schools in most instances because of district zoning and location. In most instances, class sizes tend to be larger in low-performing schools and the amounts of “highly qualified” teachers are limited. Each state and school district has school improvement plans in place to correct low-performing schools and to raise overall student achievement. Thousands of students are enrolled at consistently failing schools and are not being provided the chance to receive a quality education. Public Charter schools give another option to parents whose child is attending one of those schools. “Charter schools have cracked the code about how to reach some of these struggling populations of kids that the public schools, particularly in urban areas, are not doing well by”, said Lisa Macfarlane, Washington State Director of Democrats for Education Reform.

Trend or Issue

The new trend on the horizon is the "choice of schools". Students in most states are able to choose what type of school they want to attend. The choice of schools are helping students perform better on state mandated test and are allowing school districts to achieve overall higher performance. So how is this an issue? This is an issue because they are publicly financed schools that are run by private, but usually nonprofit, organizations. Sometimes they are independent agencies and sometimes they are part of larger charter school organizations or chains. The primary argument that charter schools are public schools is that they are paid for out of government funds. While they get most of their budgets from tax dollars, that is not enough to render them public schools. There are many other organizations that pay for operations with public funds but are still private organizations.

What is the debate?
There is a growing debate on whether states should allow the flexibility of choice: traditional public schools or charter public schools as it relates to student achievement and the educational well-being of students. There are several pros and cons of both types of schools as well as misconceptions. The topic has sparked such large amounts of interest with state and federal legislators to the point that there are currently sessions being held to discuss the role of school choice in the state’s educational system. Many state teacher unions oppose public charter schools out of fear that the charter schools would cause enrollment decreases which would ultimately decrease local and state funding. Other groups and organizations oppose charter schools because of the “for-profit” groups that run some charter schools taking government funding away from traditional public schools and low-income urban areas as well as of fear that opening charter schools in areas that are already high-performing could cause segregation issues.

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Enrollment Trends Charter schools are changing public and private school enrollment patterns across the country. The CATO institute has conducted studies to analyze district-level enrollment patterns for all states with charter schools, isolating how charter schools affect traditional public and private school enrollments after controlling for changes for the socioeconomic, demographic, and economic conditions in each district. The study shows that in grades K–12, enrollments grew by about 1.1 percent per year between 2000 and 2008. The share of students in public schools increased from 89.5 to 90.8 percent. Enrollment in traditional public schools have not kept pace with school-age population growth, however, and the primary growth in public enrollments has been in charter schools. Since 2000, charter enrollments grew by about 17 percent per year. Enrollments in highly urban areas have declined sharply in recent years, dropping by 3.8 percent per year in traditional public schools. However, charter enrollments increased by 14.8 percent per year over the same period.


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