A charter school is a new public school that is created and managed by a group usually consisting of parents, teachers, and/or community leaders. Also, some for-profit businesses run charter schools. Charters receive funding from the state where they are located, and they are free from many of the regulations governing other schools that are overseen by a local school district. Most are small and have only a few grade levels. Some serve a specialized group of students.
The schools are begun for several reasons. Their founders believe that students will receive a better education when parents and school administrators have a clear vision of how the school should operate, and first-hand knowledge of the students’ needs. They also think that teachers and administrators who don’t have so many bureaucratic rules to follow can develop more effective curriculum and teaching methods. Charter schools are very popular in urban areas where existing schools are overcrowded and underequipped, segregated, and not very successful in helping poor and minority students achieve.
Most charter schools have only been operating for a few years, so it is too soon to know whether they are more successful than other schools. Many of them show promise, though, so it’s useful for parents to consider whether their children would do well in a charter school.
How Can I Find Out About a Charter School?
Charter schools do not advertise. So, when a child is ready to move on to a new school, or is not doing well in his or her current school, parents need to seek out information about school choices. The local Board of Education and school counselors know about charters. So do social service agencies, community-based organizations, adult basic education classes, immigrant group organizations, recreational organizations, and religious institutions.
The Internet also lists charter schools. People who can’t access the information themselves can get help at their local library.
Finally, parents should talk to other parents about their school needs. Parents can get general information, and also can hear about the charter school experiences of other students.
How Can My Children Apply?
Charter schools require that students submit an application form. The form can be filled out by parents or by other adults interested in a student’s welfare. Such concerned people include extended family members, teachers and guidance counselors, ministers, and health clinic and social service workers.
Parents who aren’t able to manage the application process, because of a shortage of time or other problems, should seek assistance–their community includes many people who want to help children get the best education possible. Only parents or legal guardians can officially enroll a child in a charter school, however.
What Are the Admissions Requirements?
All students who apply to a charter school are eligible for admission, and most schools have room for everyone. If, however, more students apply than the school can hold, they become part of a lottery that decides who can attend.
There are no location requirements for admission. Students do not have to live near the school to attend it. Charters must supply the same transportation services as other public schools, but parents should think about whether the daily commute, even if it is affordable, would be too hard.
There are no academic requirements for admission. Students are eligible regardless of their past school record.
There is no charge for attendance. Charters, like other public schools, are free. If the charter school asks families to pay for “extras,” like materials for enrichment or trips, it is all right for parents to say they can’t afford them. Parents can ask the school to find a way to supply their children with what they need. Also, while a school may ask for donations or help with fund raising, students whose parents aren’t able to contribute can’t be denied attendance at the school.
What Questions Should Parents Ask?
Charter schools are different from other schools because all the people involved have the same values and goals. Because they are organized to create a community, charters expect a lot of family support and participation. Unfortunately, because charters often have limited funds for renovating facilities or providing special services, some may not be appropriate for certain children. Therefore, before you enroll your children, parents should get information about a school so both parents and children will be comfortable there. Questions parents should ask cover areas such as these:
Can the School Meet My Children’s Special Needs?
All students are legally entitled to attend the public school they choose, and schools receive funds from the Federal government to educate students with disabilities. Still, parents should be sure that a charter school can accommodate their children’s physical needs, such as access to all facilities. Also, since charters are small, parents should find out whether a child will be the only student with a specific educational need (such as bilingual learning), so families can decide whether services will be good enough and whether their child will feel isolated.
Some children have education needs not covered by Federal funds, and charters may not have the resources to meet them. Also, some charters mainstream all students. It is important, therefore, for parents to provide as much information about their children as possible so the school administrators can tell them what services their children will get.
What Are the School’s Educational Philosophy and Values?
Charters develop their curriculum and teaching strategies based on a shared educational philosophy, such as a “back-to-basics” approach. They also operate according to a set of values, sometimes reflected in rules governing conduct and academic effort. For students to succeed, their parents need to agree with the school’s values, and to help their children meet the goals set by the school. Parents who don’t agree will be less interested in involving themselves in the school.
What Does the School Want Parents to Do?
Most charters believe their success depends on parents’ active participation in both the school’s activities and their children’s education. They may want parents to help organize events, attend meetings, or check homework. They may even want parents to agree to provide their children with learning materials, such as computer equipment, at home.
Parents should ask what the school’s expectations are and think about whether the family, or other people in their children’s life, can meet them. Before enrolling their children, parents should tell the administrators if they will be unable to come to the school (possibly because of work schedules or health problems), or cannot provide certain resources at home. By discussing these concerns, administrators and parents can work together to figure out how parents can contribute to the school’s operation and how the school can get students what they need. Remember, the school can’t deny a child admission because parents aren’t able to contribute money or school supplies.
How Will the School Evaluate Itself and Its Students’ Achievement?
Parents need to feel confident that the charter school is carrying out the program and meeting the goals that originally attracted them, and that makes the school different from others. Parents also want to be sure that their children are learning. So it is important to ask how the school evaluates its program and measures academic achievement. If the charter can’t show that it regularly compares its performance against its plans and promises, it won’t be any better than other schools. Parents also need to find ways to measure their children’s advances over time, and can ask the school how to help them do their own assessment.