Should Your Child Go to Charter School?

Charter schools have a mystique that appeals to many parents. They often promise to be managed better, offer stronger learning opportunities and be staffed with superior teachers when compared with traditional public schools. Yet the sheen that accompanied the recent surge in charter school openings has begun to wear off, which makes deciding whether or not to choose a charter school increasingly difficult.

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charter school quality vs public school

What Is a Charter School?

Charter schools are alternative public schools. Like other traditional public schools, they receive money from the government, but they're exempt from many regulations and policies that impact their counterparts. Charter schools began appearing in the early 1990s and more than 5,000 have opened in less than two decades. They serve about three percent of all public school students, or more than 1.5 million students, across 40 states and the District of Columbia.

Charter schools are often started with a specific educational focus. For example, many are intended to provide specialized arts, mathematics or science education. Others are more general in theme, simply focused on offering a stronger overall education than the existing public schools in an area. Charter schools can be started by different types of groups, including teachers, corporations, parents or universities.

All Charter Schools Are Not Equal

As you consider whether or not your child should go to a charter school, keep in mind that the quality of charter schools varies dramatically. The U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences (IES) released a report last year that analyzed the effectiveness of charter schools across the nation. The report found significant inconsistencies in the effectiveness of charter schools.

If you're considering a charter school, it's likely that your child is in a traditional public school and you're hopeful that a local charter school will provide your child with a better chance for success. Unfortunately, the IES report found that charter schools were neither more nor less successful at improving student achievement, including raising test scores, improving attendance or increasing the likelihood for grade promotion. In fact, charter schools that serve students from high incomes or high achieving backgrounds had a significantly negative effect on math performance.

However, charter schools that cater to students from a low income or low achieving background did see a statistically significant rise in math performance. Furthermore, both parents and students were generally more satisfied with charter schools than traditional public schools. In general, the IES study found that some charter schools were highly effective, while others were disappointingly subpar.

An Individual Decision

Ultimately, deciding whether or not you should send your child to a charter school is an individual decision. It ought not to be based upon national statistics, which don't suggest that what's available to you is better or worse than your traditional public school. It's important that you research the available charter schools in your area and find out how they compare to your traditional public school. While the grass may seem greener and the lure of charter schools can be enticing, the fact that a school is a charter school in no way makes it superior or more likely to ensure success for your child.

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