Center for Digital Education & Converge: research in education technology for K-12 and higher education

Charter Schools vs. Public Schools

on July 7, 2009

In the school district I work in, there are three charter schools as alternatives to the public schools in the district. A charter school is an elementary or secondary school that can receive public funding, but is freed from some of the rules and regulations that apply to public schools in exchange for some type of accountability for producing a specified result.

In light of issues that I've been involved in at my former public school, I have seen the worst in people in terms of political garbage. At my previous school, my immediate administrators have to answer to district office administrators, who have to answer to the board, all of whom have very intricate — and complicated — laws to follow. If, for example, a student brings drugs into a classroom, despite having rules that outline appropriate consequences, students won't always be held accountable. I've heard my former administrators say, "Well I think we should follow our discipline matrix, but I'm not sure it's worth the fight." They know parents will threaten them with legal action, and the district office administrators will instruct them to not uphold consequences. It gets very messy.

Charter schools, however, have the ability to hold their students to higher standards, and consistently and fairly enforce rules and consequences. Because the students know exactly what is expected of them, they follow rules, respond to boundaries, ultimately allowing them to achieve at higher levels because all they have to do is focus on achieving. 

Another wonderful aspect of charter schools is that they can be tailored to individual students' needs. The charter schools with which I am familiar have art-based themes, individualized instruction, law-based curriculum, etc. They still require students to study English, math, science, social science and a foreign language, but the elective courses that they take are tailored to fit their interests and future career paths.

The only thing that, in my humble opinion, makes charter schools controversial is that they "take" students away from public schools who achieve at higher levels and have less behavior problems, leaving public schools with lower-achieving students and increased behavior problems. In recent conversations about charter schools with a couple of my administrators on different occasions, they both said, "It must be nice to be able to choose your students." My thought is, if you're holding students accountable, you'd have a lot more high-achieving, well-behaved students. Public schools should use charter schools as an example of how great schools operate.

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on Jul 14, 2009
I am an educator who has been teaching in a charter schools for several years. I think it is a common misconception that charter schools "choose" our students. On the contrary, our charter school has a public lottery for the very limited spots available. Do we get the best, brightest and most well behaved? No we don't. However, I am lucky to work in a school that doesn't give up on children, has clear expectations of its students and tries very hard to maintain some type of discipline in classrooms. Not every charter school achieves this, but many do. I think we need to know that there are public schools that are achieving the same things. Sometimes, the sheer size of the school undermines its progress and makes the school look bad. Having a smaller school setting certainly has proven to be a positive factor in our school's success. I think NYC is moving towards creating smaller school settings. It cannot be done overnight, but I am optimistic about the changes I see both in public and charter schools.
on Jul 24, 2009
There are many different types of charter schools. The charter school I work for has two programs: a home school program and an independent study high school program. We're not "taking" students away from the district. Our homeschool kids generally come from families that want an alternative to regular public school. If these kids weren't homeschooled, they'd probably be in private school. Our independent study kids, on the other hand, have basically washed out of traditional school. Maybe they didn't get along with their peers, weren't motivated, etc. Many reasons. We're their last chance to get their high school diploma and either move on to college/jr. college or enter the workforce.
on Dec 8, 2009
There are several kinds of public schools - district public schools and charter public schools. Someone else clarified the admission process for charter schools - most have a lottery. What is not always done well is making sure that the families of children in poor urban areas are made aware of the possibility of their children attending a charter school. That said, none of the actual advantages of charter schools cannot be done in district schools - higher standards, thematic programs. The charter schools are held accountable for the results - just like district public schools.
on Mar 13, 2010
I don't believe that Charter schools are for lower achievers. I think it all depends on the students. I went to a very outstanding high school. And it did not make me into this straight A student. It actually made me miserable, because it was so competitive. Maybe some kids do belong in a setting like that to achieve, but I believe I would have been much better off at a smaller school with more guidance and support. I do believe also that good students can come from any school. There is this movie called "Homeless to Harvard" about a girl who came from nothing and ended up being accepted to Harvard. She barely even went to school growing up. But she really was smart and wanted something great.
on Mar 24, 2010
I think this statement says a lot about the problem of public schools: "A charter school is an elementary or secondary school that can receive public funding, but is freed from some of the rules and regulations that apply to public schools". I've seen this statement made by a number of writers. The problem seems to be that the public schools are hamstrung by federal and state rules and regulations. Those same politicians that created the problems seem to think the way out is to create a small subset of "charter schools" exempt from the restrictive rules they themselves are responsible. The way out, IMHO, is to go back to the basics. Get the feds and state out of the school systems and let the teachers and administrators be accountable to parents and the school board. That is, make every school a "charter school". Then we'll see more successful schools with higher graduation rates and fewer discipline problems.
on Apr 13, 2010
Charter schools are also a problem because they do not abide by NCLB. They do not have to hire certified teachers; they can hire anyone off of the street. They hide many of their unethical practices and problems. Only the public schools and public school teachers must submit to NCLB standards.
on Apr 20, 2010
The one factor which is not being mentioned in any of this debate is the fact that ALL students who end up in a charter school do so because their parents initiated the process. Whether it is a lottery selection or not is immaterial. Widespread implementation of charter schools would simply amplify the dichotomy of education creating schools where the parents are involved and schools who struggle to deal with the rest of the students. Is this not an elitist approach to education?
on Apr 27, 2010
I attended public school although some teachers try to educate their children it could be done possible because the classes were too big. Nothing could get done during the day.
on May 18, 2010
What makes charter schools BAD is that they "take" students away from public schools who achieve at higher levels and have less behavior problems, leaving public schools with lower-achieving students and increased behavior problems. Why don't we require charter schools to be accountable by requiring them to take all students in the area, not only the good behaving ones. Then we would have a real gauge how successful they are and in fairness all students in the are should have equal access.
on Sep 14, 2010
I have substiute taught for a charter school for a couple of years now and have even interviewed with two other charter schools. I hate the vibe that I feel when I walk into a charter school. Its this feeling as if they're "better". Some of the teachers and administrators are a little arrogant and unfriendly. When I sub in the public schools the principals always come in to the classroom to see how I'm doing and offer to help in any way that they can. The academic head in the charter school has never done that for me even after fore-warning me that the class I'll be in is a little tough. The public schools teachers are also much more friendly and helpful. I also strongly believe that the charters schools undermine public education. And how can public schools use charters schools as an example if their hands are tied and they don't have the freedom from rules and regualtions like the charter schools do?
on Jan 16, 2011
Charter schools, vouchers, and home schooling are the tools of 21st century segregation! Govenor Wallace would be proud. Minoritys have been dupped again.
on Jan 24, 2011
I attend a charter school and it is not a bad place. its a second opportunity for most of us. The teachers her are wonderful, its a small school so they can help the students one on one. Charter schools do not take students from public high schools, it has nothing to do with it actually. Some public high schools don't even care if the students are there or they don't care if they do their work or not as long as they are their. I was a drop out and i am glad i found a charter school that can help me by graduating i am class of 2011 and i am proud to say i attend a charter school
on Jan 26, 2011
my son was turn down for charter school because of special needs in speech, however my son end up attended a private school in which he is doing very well, with the help of is teachers and others. Charter school is not all what it seems.I have one question what about the old fashion public school system?
on Feb 18, 2011
Please visit and comment Charters are more productive than public school! (fact)
on Mar 8, 2011
The urban school district where my wife teaches also has several charter schools. The charter schools actively recruit and then pick and choose which students they accept. They generally do not accept students with learning or physical disabilities. Each year, right before state testing, her school "gets back" several charter school students who are academically deficient and/or have behavior problems. The charter schools also often send students back to the public school system if there is insufficient parental involvement. Obviously parental involvement has an impact on a student's academic performance so the result is that the deck is stacked against the public school system. Not only do the local charter schools "cherry-pick" the best and brightest students, but they have the option of rejecting students who may not have the potential for academic success. If one of the goals of charter schools is to operate without many of the rules and regulations that apply to public schools, why not just reduce some of the rules and regulations for all schools? Running what amounts to two separate school districts within a cash-strapped urban environment is not in the best interest of students, their families or the taxpayers.
on Mar 17, 2011
This article distorts reality. Drug violations are ordinarily dealt with very severely and with strong consequences. What the author observed happening is not typical. It is not true that public school students are above the law and don't have to face consequences. Charter schools ARE PUBLIC SCHOOLS. They just operate with special permission for certain kinds of experimental practices.
on Nov 29, 2011
the school district is making cvlcc witch is a charter school they are saying that the classes we take this year will not be credited that we will have to take the classes over its not fare it is my first year their in 8th grade and i have made friends that i will never forget but because of the district they are moving to public schools and public schools can not compare to cvlcc they teachers actually care about each and every student the district has no right thats all i have to say
on May 17, 2012
"Public schools should use charter schools as an example of how great schools operate." One shouldn't compare charter schools and public schools. The rules are very different for the 2 types of schools. If a state prefers charter schools and wants to fund them (like the governor in my state does) then the charter schools should be made to follow the exact same regulations and laws as the public schools. If they did, the business of charter schools would die on the vine in a very short period of time. A better alternative is to go to the board meetings, understand whats going on, vote out those on the board who do nothing to improve your district. GET INVOLVED.
on Jun 8, 2012
I think that in order to make a true assesement of students needs any school charter or not state adminisstrators should madate a meeting with c d f student and students and parents without the administrative staff because often time their true needs are bypassed and we only get a distorted view of those kids true needs. Most parents who are attending meetings are those whose children will do well in any invorenment. The single parent,economically disadvatage childrens need are still misunderstood. In order to help them get them to express their true needs and concerns. Not from distorted view of those who are not at risk of failing.

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