A charter school is a type of autonomous public school in the United States. The earliest charter schools were founded in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and were intended to revolutionize American education. A charter school is publicly funded, but not subject to the same rules and regulations as a conventional school. In some regions, the public funds which support charter schools are also supported by private grants from individuals. In return, a charter school is supposed to provide measurable results in the growing success of its students.
Like other institutions in the United States that receive public funding, a charter school should be secular, and cannot discriminate on the basis of race, creed, economic class, gender, or origin. A charter school integrates teaching methods and educational philosophy which are sometimes different than those of a public school under supervision of a school board. Charter schools offer an opportunity to test out innovative pedagogy, and parents with the resources can choose whether or not to send their children to a charter school. When implemented well, a charter school is an excellent opportunity for parents, educators, children, and society in general.
Typically, a charter school has a focus, such as providing services to at-risk youth, offering college preparatory classes, or focusing on technology, the sciences, or the arts. The school signs a charter or contract with the district, usually for a term of three to five years. In exchange for public funding and less supervision, the charter school is expected to provide a superior education to its students. Results are measured using a variety of means, although there is often a heavy focus on standardized testing.
There are some concerns about charter schools. Because they are subject to less regulation, some parents and teachers and concerned about the quality of education offered at a charter school. Although the schools can theoretically be closed if they are not performing well, this has proved difficult in practice. In addition, some charter schools are run by for profit companies, and parents and educators are concerned that the children attending these schools may not be receiving the best education possible, since the interest of the administration is split between profit and serving the students.
There is also some concern that charter schools actively recruit students who perform well academically or have wealthy families which could provide resources for the school. In addition, because charter schools are often smaller, some critics believe that they take money away from public schools which must educate the majority of students. Public schools are also often left with larger populations of at-risk youth or academically troubled children, while the neighboring charter school may appear to have better academic performance as a result of its recruitment practices. The American Federation of Teachers is also concerned that charter schools may unfairly take advantage of teachers, especially those who are young and enthusiastic about implementing new educational techniques, and therefore willing to take a cut in pay to work for a charter school.
Under the No Child Left Behind Act, schools that are not performing according to the federal government's demands are often removed from district control under the charter system. While a change in school administration may improve the overall performance of the school, these charter schools are put in a position where they are expected to accomplish more for their struggling students with fewer resources. Because the district control on charter schools is so loose, the success of a charter school is much more closely tied to the strength of school management than district schools. Charter schools can be fun, engaging, and unique learning environments for all students, though like any public institution, they have their limitations as well.