Sunday, March 29, 2009

Charter Schools

This is a long post, but hopefully will give you some valuable information:

"Charter schools are free public schools that are open to all students. A charter school gives parents the choice of sending their children to a school that uses innovative methods to provide a quality education in a small, responsive, learning environment. Charter schools operate under a charter agreement with their authorizer. They have a high degree of autonomy but also a high degree of accountability."
Idaho Charter School Website.

The above quote is one of the best definitions I have found for a charter school. Charter schools are free, public schools open to all students. That means no tuition is paid by parents for their student to attend. Charter schools operate on public funds for the state budget but at a lower percentage rate. Because they operate on the same funds as a standard public school, all teachers must meet sate certification requirements. All charter schools must also meet the same state graduation, testing, and accountability requirements that standard public schools do.

Charter schools cannot pick and choose their students, even if a student has a disability or learning disorder. A charter school, by law in Utah, has to hold a blind lottery; a student's name is put on a list and their name is randomly drawn out. If a student is not picked, their name goes on a waiting list until a spot is open.

Generally a charter school is founded on a specific teaching method or emphasis. The high school I worked for focused on science, math, and engineering; other schools in the area are based on the Spalding Method for reading. Due to the structure of curriculum in charter schools, they generally are more capable to make needed changes to meet students' curriculum needs. They also ten to be able to make those changes quicker than a standard district run public school due to their being small.

Pros:
  • Smaller sized schools. The school I worked for was capped at 300 students.
  • Generally charter schools have a teaching method or an emphases on what they are about. Great for students with individualized interests.
  • Generally more individualized time with teachers due to the smaller class sizes.
  • More opportunities for parents to become involved.
  • More accountable to parents due to parents being able to be more involved.
Cons:
  • Smaller budgets. Charter schools, in Utah, operate on 1/2 of the weighted pupil unit, or how much funding each school receives per student, than a standard public school.
  • Not required to provide transportation to and from school.
  • Not required to have an on site lunch program though most generally do.
  • While required by State law, not all charter schools can meet the needs of special needs students. If you are looking at a charter school for a special needs student, MEET WITH THE PRINCIPAL ASAP! You will get a better feeling for their willingness to help that student succeed.
This is really basic information I have learned from having worked in a charter school for 3 years. Also, some states might have different requirements; the above information is based on Utah. If you would like more information based on your state requirements, check out your state department of education website. They will have a link regarding charter schools in your state, and a list of schools in your area. If you have questions please leave a comment and I will answer them to the best of my ability, or check out the link on our sidebar to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Good Luck!

21 comments:

Jared and Delia said...

I have heard of magnet schools too. Are they similar to charter schools?

Spring said...

Great explanation of charter schools! Those are all of the same cons that I would have said for a charter school too. I've seen that in some instances of charter schools a lot more money can be spent on each child because you generally don't have a district office full of people who's salaries have to be paid from the same per dollar a student funding. Whether or not you choose to send your child to a charter school the competition makes public schools better, as in all businesses.

Tannie Datwyler said...

Delia - a magnet school is NOT the same by any stretch. A magnet program exists (usually) in a public school district. The district tests and finds students with high abilities that need to be pushed hard to succeed. Then, those studetns are invited to join the magnet school. This is more or less a GT program. I have mixed feelings about magnet schools, mostly because I have never actually been in one. There are none in Cache valley - though Murray district in the SL valley does have them. I like the idea that they want to focus on those high ability children (I am a HUGE proponet of gifted education), but I don't necessarily agree with taking them out of the regular school setting.

Tannie Datwyler said...

So, although I haven't actually participated with charter schools (way to go Megan, you had the knowledge and you were the right one to write this). I have read about them quite a bit. I liked what you said - it was very well put, unbaised, and gave great information.

I have several things from my understanding (could be misconceptions, you tell me, but I'm pretty sure I read these off a charter school website)....

1. Students with behavior problems can be expelled and/or the school can refuse to accept them into their ranks.

2. Not ALL the schools are accredited (on the website, it even said that only grades 9-12 are accredited).

3. Not all schools are required to follow the same guidelines as a public school (you can also read this on any of the charter school webistes). It differs - some schools follow all the same guidelines, some none - it simply depends on their charter.

4. Although they are subject to the same testing as public schools, they don't hold the same ACCOUNTIBILITY. If a charter school's test scores are not up to scratch, they don't have to follow the same guidelines as AYP that a public school does in accordance with NCLB. I do know that a charter school can have its charter revoked though.

My biggest issue with a charter school is that it doesn't give a comprehensive view of public schools. There are MANY children who can't attend because their parents either don't care about their education, or they can't send their kid to a charter school because it is too far away. I know a charter school is free to the public, but really it isn't free to those that can't afford to transport their kids there. These parents rely on the public school system. If charter schools are set up to help improve teaching methods (this is also on charter school websites), then I would ask - how can they help public school teachers if they don't even have the SAME mix of students and difficulties that a public school setting has? We are comparing apples and oranges here. What works in a charter school will not necessarily work in a public schools simply because the general makeup is so different.

So what is the solution? Public schools have A LOT of problems. But I don't see that a charter school is helping IMPROVE education overall in the nation. A charter school may be improving the knowledge and education for a select few set of students, but it certainly never helped me as a public educator.

Now, with that being said - I agree that a certain amount of competition is healthy. Like has been said, monopoly is NOT good. I also totally understand that there are certain instances in which a student REALLY REALLY needs a different setting. I am not giving my "blanket ban" on charter schools, I am just not for them overall. Nor am I trying to offend anyone - I just want to be clear.

Charter schools may be necessary, but I don't agree with many things concerning that form of education. However flawed and inperfect - I choose to stand with public education. I want to fight to make it better.

Megan said...

Tannie-
1- Yes students can be expelled due to behavior or other issues and a charter school doesn't have to accept them back, but Districts can do that same thing. If they have a student who has serious behavioral issues, who isn't getting better, a school district can do that same thing. Thing to realize is that a charter school is a district unto itself. They can make those same decisions a district does because they are their own district.

2- It takes three years to be accredited. The school I worked for became accredited in August. You have to go through the steps and if you are a parent that is looking at charter schools, if it is a high school, ask about accreditation because it can affect your child's college applications. So the schools may be working on accreditation.

3- They are required to follow the graduation requirements. However, they can choose how they meet those guidelines. Whether it be some classes are taken online form the state sponsored electronic high school, or taught upon on campus like the school I worked for. Charter schools have much more flexibility with their curriculum then districts do, but still have to meet the same criteria when it comes to graduations.

4- They do hold the same accountability. They have to meet the same criteria any other district does. Charter schools actually hold more accountability because they have to meet the parents of the students demands. Parents can choose to pull their student out of a charter school at any point and it is much easier to pull a student from a charter school then it is a district. They still have to meet NCLB, and all state mandates as other districts do. They have to file all the same accountability reports as other districts.

Do I agree with all charter school practice, no. I saw things that could have been improved. However, charter schools flexibility is a big plus for them. In the school I worked for, kids can graduate as Juniors in college because of their partnership with the local university.

I worked for a school district for a year in the district office before moving to the charter school and I attended public education, I have seen the pros and cons of both worlds. BOTH need work, but I do think there is a place for charter schools.

Tannie Datwyler said...

Thank you so much for answering my questions! I agree with you that they both need improvement and that they both have a place.

Heather said...

I am very interested in this debate. I was curious as to one of Megan's statements in the post about parents having a greater opportunity to be involved. Could you be more specific? I don't know a single school in the traditional public education system that would turn down parent volunteers for anything. As a teacher, I worked hard to keep parents in my classroom and often lobbied for more help than was offered. As a school, we were always seeking out more people to serve in the PTA. It seems that if a parent could be involved in their child's classroom at a charter school, they could certainly be involved in a public school setting.

Above in your comments, you also mentioned that districts can refuse students who are a behavior problem the way charter schools can. It is my understanding that is NOT the case in a traditional school district. A student my be expelled for a specified amount of time from a school, but they CANNOT refuse to service the student once that time is up. Certainly, if a student is at a school on "school choice" (meaning they don't live within the boundaries of the school, but have obtained permission to attend because that is where they prefer to be) the school can revoke that privilege and the student returns to the school within whose boundaries he or she resides. However, they may not be kicked out of the district entirely.

Thank you for this post. I learned many new things about charter schools that I didn't know before. I appreciate the candid way you presented your ideas.

Megan said...

There are certain times when a school district doesn't have to accept a student back, as I understand it. They do not if it was a weapons violation, or drug violation. From how I understand charter school law, they can refuse a student who has been expelled from that charter school. I don't know all the information for school districts in this area, and could very well be wrong in the above comments regarding school districts.

Parents can be more involved through the governing board of the charter school. It is much easier to be voted onto a charter school board than it is to be voted onto a school district board. Also, where charter schools tend to have a smaller staff, parents are relied on more heavily to run after school clubs, activities, and committees. I know at the school I worked at, if it hadn't been for parents volunteering to run part of the above items, they wouldn't have happened. Also, many times parents are called upon to help with office support and class room activities that does not violate privacy laws.

Megan said...

The other thing about parents who choose to send their students to a charter school, they tend to be more willing to spend their time in a school where they feel they have more say. Now, this doesn't go for every parent who sends their child to a charter school. From the parents and students I interacted with this held mostly true. Of course, we had those parents who didn't have time, or didn't feel like they wanted/could help just like any school district.

Jared and Delia said...

I have a friend who is a big advocate of the charter school she has put her five year old in. She is VERY involved in the school and loves it. This school jumps kids ahead a year. So kindergarten has more of a first grade curriculum and so on. I don't personally agree with this. I already think that kids are getting pushed too hard as it is and at too young of an age, BUT I am happy for my friend - that she has a choice to put her daughter in the school she prefers. I like that charter schools provide options.

Tannie Datwyler said...

That's true Delia - it's good to know what your feelings are, but it is also good for others to have options. Thanks for pointing that out.

Megan, you are right about parents wanting to be more invovled when they send their kids to a charter school - that is another reason I have a hard time with charter schools. Many of the dedicated parents are giving up on public education.

Forward With Fun and Faith said...

I have heard that the "student money" that would be going towards public schools follows the child that would go to a charter school instead?

Forward With Fun and Faith said...

I also heard that many charter schools require so many hours of parental involvement.

Megan said...

There are many schools that do require so many hours of parental involvement, but it's not required by state law.

In Utah, only have of the money follows a student to a charter school. They have been looking at changing that, but I haven't heard if it has happened or not.

Kelly A. said...

I definitely leaned some things about charter schools I did not know. One of my concerns about charter schools was that they take money away from public schools when that student leaves, so it would be interesting to find out for sure.

mistybown said...

Ok, I just have to comment because I currently teach at a brand new charter school down in Roy.

1st-we ARE preparing to do CRT & IOWA testing & WILL look at AYP & whether or not goals were met. Although not all of our teachers hold an actual teaching certificate, the rest of them are in the process of receiving their teaching certificate through ARL.

2nd-We DO have a full time SPED teacher as well as a part time SPED teacher & 2 full time SPED aids. So, to say not all charter schools can assist SPED students is wrong. In fact, if my memory serves me correct, our SPED population is somewhere near 12-16%. I referred 6 kids from my class alone this year & all 6 qualified for services. This ties directly to the point that charter schools don't serve the same population. It is my experience that we have gotten the really high & the really low kids attending our school. It's the middle ground kids we don't have a lot of. And for those of you that teach, you know that these 2 populations are some of the most difficult to serve because you have to really think outside the box in order to meet their needs.

3rd-Smaller classes? Are you kidding me? I had 28 kids at one point this year! I now have 25 & have held that number since about Christmas. We do provided differentiated instruction to our students in order to meet all their needs. We do small reading groups (guided reading) and we do have ability grouping for math where the kids change teachers. The groups are not set in stone though. Both of these groups are constantly changing as needed. This being said, I just did report cards (or parts of report cards) for about 50 students. Our total student population is somewhere around 500. We are only a K-6 school with the prospect of increasing to K-9 in the future.

4th-We do offer free & reduced lunch to our students that qualify.

5th-The parents of the students at my school are pretty amazing. Many do work full time and cannot volunteer in the classroom. The rest however, are more than willing to do what they can for me from home & send it back to school with their child. Those parents that can participate, do. I think you'll find that at any school though. I think the reason that parents tend to be more involved in charter schools, is because they went out of their way to put their child in a particular school & they are extremely vested in their child's education. These parents are not content to sit idly by & just roll with the punches. Yes, I do have some high maintenance parents. However, I'd much rather have 25 sets of parents that were overly involved in their child's education that not a single parent who cares or even asks about how their child is doing in my class.

6th-Not all charter schools have the same focus. My charter school has a technology focus. This has both its pros & its cons, just like anything else. However, I think it's important that parents realize there are many different charter schools out there with many different focus' in place.

Prior to teaching at this charter school, I was not a fan of charter schools. Since I began working at one, I have had my eyes open to a few things & I wouldn't trade my experience for anything in the world because it has made me a better educator. I think it's important to realize that parents need to look at their child and their child's needs and find a school that works best for them, whether that's a charter school, standard public school or whatever else they may find. Remember it's your child & you know them & what they need the best.

Tannie Datwyler said...

Misty - thank you for your comments! I love how you were honest. You pointed out the positive and negative and you know best since you work at one. I really appreciate your thoughts.

Megan said...

I wasn't trying to say all charter schools are not equipped to handle special ed students. Some are and some are not, and that is something I have found out from attending the different state trainings for administration. And you are right, most charter schools offer lunch programs and are eligible to offer free and reduced lunch programs, however, again talking to administrators some are not.

I will be very honest and tell you I don't know most of the information for charter elementary schools, my experience has been with high schools. In a typical standard high school class sizes are generally over 30 students. In a charter high school, they tend to be between 20 and 25 students, so they are smaller.

I also really appreciate your thoughts and how you listed your pros and cons. Thanks!

mistybown said...

One other thing I thought of but forgot to mention in my post last night was this: Someone said something about the transportation issue and that they feel that not all students are able to participate in a charter school because parents can't afford or don't have time to transport their child. My school has made it so that there are a very large number of carpools. At the beginning of the year there was a group of people over this & information was sent out to all the parents. This allows students that live near each other that all want to attend the same school to do so as long as there is at least 1 parent willing and able to transport all the kids. Some carpools switch drivers weekly and some don't. I think this has made it more feasible for parents to send their child to (at least our) charter schools.

As for the funding questions that I saw, our charter school gets federal money just like a public school. We're aren't Title 1, but I've heard there are Title 1 charter schools. You're right, our students don't pay tuition. I've heard that some schools (and I think the ones I've heard of are private ones) that charge money to parents that don't put in all their "volunteer hours." My school thought of making that option available (substituting money for hours but not a requirement), but it didn't ever pass approval of the board. So, I guess my answer on the whole funding thing is that our money comes from the same place as the regular public school. I would have to ask my principal to get more info than that. I do know, though, that our funding is based on our total number of students and because of that, this year there was a BIG push to get as many kids as we could at our school.

For the "volunteer hours," my understanding at the beginning of the year was that parents were required to put in 30 hours of volunteering during the school year. Come to find out later (when I attended a board meeting) that the 30 hours are merely "suggested" and not in fact required. I don't think many people knew that.

Heather, you are right, charter schools cannot refuse to accept a student based soley on behavior or academic issues. Students can be suspended, however. We have had some interesting behavior this year (from what I hear) and not a single student has been kicked out or asked to leave. We have had quite a few students withdraw from the school and go back to regular public education. I don't know if that's because of their teacher or if it was just a result of being tired of dealing with starting a new school (it's WAY harder than I thought it would be!!).

I'll ask my principal for clarification on funding and post again.

Megan said...

I know, as of last June, because I helped with budget issues that funding is based on the total number of students and for each student public charter schools receive half of the WPU that districts receive. Each October schools are required to submit a report to the state with their student numbers and their funding is based on that number.

As for tuition, no public charter school can charge tuition, they can charge fees, as any standard public school can, but not tuition.

Forward With Fun and Faith said...

Thank you Misty!