In Colorado alone there are over 40,000 students are on waiting lists to attend a charter public school.
Charter public school students are no different in academic background and motivation than students attending traditional public schools. Yet, accross the nation, well-run charter public schools tend to perform significantly better than traditional public schools based on a variety of indicators.
Public charters are less costly and more effective than reducing class size. The positive effect of going to an elementary charter school on math scores is more than four times greater than reducing class sizes by five students. (Center for Reinventing Public Education/University of Washington, 2008).
These and other other contributing factors shed light on a policy brief on public charter schools from the Washington Policy Center which concluded that charter public schools are significantly more popular with parents than traditional district-led schools.
The economic explanation for the popularity of charter schools is simple: as consumers (families) are given more choice, value tends to improve (quality goes up and price goes down).
Also, it is important to acknowledge that every student is unique and what is a good fit for one student may not be the best fit for another. It is healthy for students and families to gravitate to whichever school is the best fit for them at a given time.
Charter schools operate from 3 basic principles:
Accountability: Charter schools are held accountable for how well they educate children in a safe and responsible environment, not for compliance with district and state regulations. They are judged on how well they meet the student achievement goals established by their charter, and how well they manage the fiscal and operational responsibilities entrusted to them. Charter schools must operate lawfully and responsibly, with the highest regard for equity and excellence. If they fail to deliver, they are closed.
Choice: Parents, teachers, community groups, organizations, or individuals interested in creating a additional educational opportunities for children can start charter schools. Local and state school boards, colleges and universities, and other community agencies can sponsor them. Students choose to attend, and teachers choose to teach at charter schools.
Autonomy: Charter schools are freed from the traditional bureaucracy and regulations that some feel divert a school’s energy and resources toward compliance rather than excellence. Proponents of charter schools argue that instead of jumping through procedural hoops and over paperwork hurdles, educators can focus on setting and reaching high academic standards for their students.
The charter school movement has roots in a number of other education reform ideas, from alternative schools, to site-based management, magnet schools, public school choice, privatization, and community-parental empowerment. The term “charter” may have originated in the 1970s when New England educator Ray Budde suggested that small groups of teachers be given contracts or “charters” by their local school boards to explore new approaches. Albert Shanker, former president of the AFT, then publicized the idea, suggesting that local boards could charter an entire school with union and teacher approval. In the late 1980s Philadelphia started a number of schools-within-schools and called them “charters.” Some of them were schools of choice. The idea was further refined in Minnesota where charter schools were developed according to three basic values: opportunity, choice, and responsibility for results.
In 1991 Minnesota passed the first charter school law, with California following suit in 1992. By 1995, 19 states had signed laws allowing for the creation of charter schools, and by 2003 that number increased to 40 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. Charter schools are one of the fastest growing innovations in education policy, enjoying broad bipartisan support from governors, state legislators, and past and present secretaries of education. In his 1997 State of the Union Address, former President Clinton called for the creation of 3,000 charter schools by the year 2002. In 2002, President Bush called for $200 million to support charter schools. His proposed budget called for another $100 million for a new Credit Enhancement for Charter Schools Facilities Program. Since 1994, the U.S. Department of Education has provided grants to support states’ charter school efforts, starting with $6 million in fiscal year 1995.