A charter school is an independently run public school granted greater flexibility in its operations, in return for greater accountability for performance. The “charter” establishing each school is a performance contract detailing the school’s mission, program, students served, performance goals, and methods of assessment. The autonomy granted under the charter agreement allows the school considerable decision-making authority over key matters of curriculum, personnel, and budget. Charter schools are often not a part of states’ current districts and, therefore, have few if any zoning limitations. Therefore, students attend charter schools by the choice of their parents or guardians rather than by assignment to a school district.
What is the difference between charter schools and other public schools?
Charter schools are public schools of choice, meaning that families choose them for their children. They operate with freedom from some of the regulations that are imposed upon district schools. Charter schools are accountable for academic results and for upholding the promises made in their charters. They must demonstrate performance in the areas of academic achievement, financial management, and organizational stability. If a charter school does not meet performance goals, it may be closed.
Who attends charter schools? Whom do they serve?
Nationwide, students in charter schools have similar demographic characteristics to students in the local public schools. In some states, charter schools serve significantly higher percentages of minority or low-income students than the traditional public schools. Charter schools accept students by random, public lottery.
Schools of Choice
One thing about regular public schools is that they must be all things for all people, while not having the luxury to decide what kind of families they want to serve. On the other hand, charter schools can adopt a specific vision that attracts families who are interested.
Charter School Facts
FACT: As defined in federal and state law, charter schools are public schools. They must meet the same academic standards that all public schools are required to meet. They are:
• Tuition free and open to all students;
• Nonsectarian and do not discriminate on any basis;
• Publicly funded by local, state, and federal tax dollars based on enrollment, like other public schools; and
• Held accountable for meeting state and federal academic standards.
Charter schools are required to take all students who want to attend. If there are more interested students than available seats, the schools are required to hold lotteries, which randomly determine which students will be enrolled. According to federal law, charter schools must accept all students, including students with disabilities and English Learners (ELLs), regardless of previous academic performance.
The largest national study of charter school performance was conducted by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University in 2013. Researchers found that overall, students in charter schools are outperforming their district-run school peers in reading, adding an average seven days of learning per year, and performing as well as students in district-run public schools in math. A 2015 CREDO study by found that students enrolled in urban charter schools gained 40 additional days of learning in math per year and 28 additional days in reading compared to their district school peers. In both studies, results were more pronounced for minority students from low-income backgrounds, and the results increased the longer a student was enrolled in a charter school