Charter Schools vs Public Schools

Posted by Pat Delorean

Everyone wants what is best for their children, especially when it comes to studies and education. Yet, making choices about the best learning institution for children to attend can be daunting. In fact, many parents have indicated that choosing an appropriate institution for their children is more stressful than many other critical life decisions, such as buying a home. In recent years, yet another decision many families must now make is whether their children should attend traditional schools or opt instead to send their kids to a charter school. While charter education establishments are frequently in the news for a variety of reasons, the fact is that many people remain confused about them. Here is everything you are probably wondering about regarding charter schools and how they compare to the public schools most people are quite familiar with.

What is a Charter School?

Charter schools are learning institutions that operate on contracts granted through local school boards. The contract, or “charter” of these schools, is an agreement to provide education in a specified manner to students who will attend. In establishing this contract between the school and the school board, the charter institution then operates independently from the district, with the tradeoff of being more accountable to the students and the director via the contract vehicle. Here are three other critical facts people should know about these learning institutions:

  • They are Public Schools. While they are much more autonomous and may operate differently, charter schools are nonetheless public schools and receive taxpayer funds to enable their operations.
  • They often Receive Less Funding. In most situations, charter schools receive government funding on a fixed, per-pupil basis, which usually ends up being less than comparable public schools in the same district are receiving. However, this is not always the case, and some CS receive private funding as well.
  • They have More Flexibility. Charter schools do not have to adhere to the same academic and hiring standards that traditional schools do, which gives them more flexibility to design unique curricula and hire teachers with special skills who may not have met the hiring criteria set forth in a particular school district.

Advantages of Education in a Charter Institution

Why should parents consider sending their kids to a charter institution? Charter schools offer many benefits for students that they would not otherwise receive, even if they attended a comparable public school in the same district. Here are some of the key advantages of a charter school education.

Class Size. One common complaint among parents, students and educators alike in many school districts is class sizes being too large. Students can often get lost in the crowd when teachers have too many kids in a classroom to manage. Charter schools, on the other hand, tend to have smaller classes than their public counterparts, which gives students more opportunities to interact with teachers and learn their subject material.

Real Choice. Before the advent of charter schools, parents in under-performing school districts had few choices, especially if they couldn’t afford to send their kids to private schools or didn’t have the means or desire to move elsewhere. Now, families who live in close proximity to charter schools have additional options when it comes to pursuing the best educational opportunities for their kids.

Specialized Education. Charter schools often have the freedom to provide a more unique, specialized education to their students. The curricula at these schools can focus on things that traditional schools neither have the time nor the authorization to offer. As a result, students can often have opportunities to study subjects not available elsewhere or more in-depth than they otherwise could, which could lead to them being more invested in their education and give them a competitive advantage when they apply for colleges later on.

Problems and Challenges with Charter Schools

While charter schools offer some terrific advantages and options for families, they are not perfect and definitely have issues of their own. This leads to charter schools having garnered a great deal of scrutiny and controversy over the past two decades. Here are some of the shortfalls and worrisome aspects of charter schools that parents and students should be aware of.

  • Misplaced Focus on Profits. In many parts of the country, charter schools have operated on a for-profit basis. As a result, many critics of charter schools argue that quality education at these schools takes a back seat to the owners’ and investors’ bottom line.
  • High Mismanagement Rate. Approximately one out of every four charter schools that closes or fails, does so due to poor management. Funding issues are a major issue for these institutions as well. Overall, for parents that are concerned with continuity in their children’s education, the overall track record for charter schools is less than stellar.
  • Poor Oversight. Another common critique of charter schools is that oversight on them is often lax. Many directors lack the resources or capacity to ensure these schools are living up to their agreed-upon contracts. In some cases, lobbyists and lawmakers have even pursued legislative actions to make these schools less accountable to local and state governments as well.

Making the Best Educational Choices for Kids

Charter schools definitely have advantages and shortfalls. However, when it comes to deciding whether or not to send kids to public schools or charter schools, it is important to remember every learning institution is different. Parents who have the option to enroll their children in a nearby charter school should do their due diligence and determine whether or not it is a quality institution. Talking to families, board members, and even students can be a great way to do this. Parents should also investigate the convectional public schools in their community as well, applying the same methods they did to check out the charter schools. After all, there are hundreds of high-performing districts across the country, and in many cases, students can receive an education in these districts’ public schools that are far superior to what charter or even private institutions can offer. Overall, parents that take the time to assess the schools in their towns and cities should be able to find an option that is a good fit for their children.