Over the years, studies are clear about what factors make a school successful. These include families who nurture their children’s academic endeavors, communities that value education, school administrators who create a positive and productive learning environment, and classroom teachers who know how to inspire children to excel. The formula is the same among schools, including traditional public and private institutions.
For charter schools, they also experience success and horrifying failures, like any other educational institution, making them a topic of several valid debates whether they are a good or a bad thing. So, what are the pros and cons of these schools? Here’s a summary of what researchers and policymakers have to say.
List of Pros of Charter Schools
1. The offer flexible options for families.
This is probably the most powerful and compelling argument for charter schools. Even in communities that have excellent public schools, the educational options are not fitted for everyone. It is important to note that a neighborhood school is not necessarily a good environment for every child because it may be too academically ambitious or not ambitious enough, too big or too small or prone to a peer group that might be problematic. There is a lot of reasons why parents should seek other alternatives and why some other options do not exist.
2. They encourage competition.
It is believed that competition makes educators improve how they teach. While competition is not really proven to be the cause of rising test scores, it has made traditional public schools more conscious about how customer service is offered and how curriculum and other decisions would affect enrollment. Fact is, there is less of the “take it or leave it” attitude in public education.
3. The foster innovation.
Some of the most exciting educational experiments in the US occur in charter schools, including those that are run by the Harlem Children’s Zone and KIPP. Because they are unconstrained by union rules and bureaucracy, charter schools easily adopt reforms, such as longer school weeks or years. With this in mind, many educational reformers have noted that most of these schools are not that innovative, so they become places where the hopes for school movements are largely to be fulfilled.
4. They carve out a niche.
One thing about regular public schools is that they have to 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 are able to adopt a specific vision that attracts families who are interested.
List of Cons of Charter Schools
1. They risk fiscal inefficiency.
Educational institutions are funded based on enrollment, and going charter mean loss of finances for the traditional K-12 programs. As experts say, would it make more sense to make more investments in a school if you want to improve it? Also, it is quite ironic that the same policymakers encourage school consolidation in order to promote fiscal efficiency and support charter school expansions. As a result, more small districts will be proliferated.
2. They sometimes have an unfair playing field.
It is believed that charters open their doors to all, but actually, they tend to target their audience. For example, they offer a rigorous curriculum that would discourage academic slackers or offer lack of transportation that would filter out low-income families. They also tend to have a lack of special education services which might discourage special-education enrollment.
3. They provide less money for the classroom.
A huge number of charter school students are supported by for-profit companies, which generally spend about half of their budget on instruction compared to most of traditional public schools. It is observed that most educational management organizations (EMOs) obtain their profits by spending less in four areas, namely special education, teacher compensation, transportation and concentration on K-8 schools, while in high schools, extracurricular activities and electives are driving up costs. Three of these areas are not available in traditional public schools.
4. They observe less transparency.
Due to the fact that charter schools are privately run, they are not covered by the Freedom of Information Act, which includes provisions to address transparency in schools, of which sufficiency still remaining to be seen.
5. They have less local accountability and control.
Considering that their boards are appointed by charter organizations instead of the public, charter schools have less avenues for protests when controversies and other problems arise. For example, the Oakland Academy in Portage terminated a popular principal, and there was not anything that parents could do.
By contrast, when the school board bought out a contract of their superintendent, which drew community outrage, two of the board members were replaced and a recall of three others was suggested. A similar case happened at the Grand Valley State University when it closed the Kalamazoo Advantage Academy.
6. They are less diverse.
Given that charter schools have a target market, they would implement more economic and racial segregation. To be sure, the process is done by parental choice, where families specifically choose this environment, raising public policy concerns for some people.
Generally, the charter-school movement fell short of the expectations of many educational policymakers and reformers to boost test scores or lead to significant innovations and cost savings from tax. Though there are some excellent charter schools, it is not proven that these institutions as a whole can produce better results for less money.
However, fears that these schools would just serve white, middle-class students has not realized. Rather, they have become popular for diverse communities, where the traditional school system is struggling. However, parents are used to having options, and it is difficult to imagine going back to the old days when educational systems had geographic monopolies.
The bottom line is, a public education system’s mission is to develop the talents of schoolchildren and maximize their opportunities. We should know how to best spend our money to do this and how to get the biggest return for such an investment. So, what do you think about charter schools?
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.