written by Elpiniki Fragkouli
Charter schools are ‘non-sectarian public schools of choice that operate with freedom from many of the regulations that apply to traditional public schools’. They function under a charter, which provides them with autonomy in return of academic and financial accountability towards their sponsors, the pupils and their parents (www.uscharterschools.org).
Charter schools has been characterised as ‘the American inspiration behind Britain's new academies’ (Curtis, 2004).
The first charter school was launched 13 years ago, trying to create a new notion of public education. Charter schools function independently from the public schools and are perceived to have an innovative program, which fits the needs of the society. The scheme of charter schools is a way of enhancing educational choice (www.uscharterschools.org).
Charter schools maintain characteristics of public schools; they are non-selective in admissions, they do not have fees and are nonreligious. If there are many pupils who would like to attend the school, means such as a lottery are used to select students.
Each charter school is different, since it constitutes a mixture of concepts and ideas of the people who initiated it. The existence of a higher ‘mission’ is the element that makes successful charter schools (US Department of Education, 2004).
Charter schools may be categorised using two main criteria (Buddin and Zimmer, 2005): charter schools that came from conventional public schools (conversion schools) contrasted with charter schools that started as charter schools, and charter schools that function mostly with classroom-based instruction, contrasted with charter schools that use teaching outside the classroom as well.
Conversion charter schools are closer to conventional schools, since in most cases the initial reason for being created was to escape the bureaucracy and to change their programs (Zimmer, 2003).
Finn et al. (2000) characterize charter schools as learning communities because they contain these 5 elements: a self-governing, mission-driven institution; a voluntary community; intimacy, scale, and involvement; a professional community; the encompass many kinds of neighbourhoods.
The uniqueness of the charter schools stands on ‘unprecedented combination of freedom and accountability’ (US Department of Education, 2004, p.1). Although these schools are funded by the nation, they are not bound to the laws and the bureaucracy which conventional public schools follow. On the other hand, they are held ‘accountable for their academic and financial performance’ (US Department of Education, 2004, p.1). Charter schools are responsible for their own finance and their human resources, as well as for their curriculum, the day length, the dress codes, their instructional methods etc. In this way charter schools can serve as ‘laboratories, developing new educational practices that can be later replicated on a broader scale’ (US Department of Education, 2004, p.2).
One very important aspect of the charter schools’ success lies in their leadership. The leadership must have a vision and capability to create a new alternative school. On the other hand, if the leadership is concerned of its personal agenda, then the success of the school may be compromised (Sarason, 1999) In addition to that, strong laws seem to lead to success charter schools as well (www.edreform.com).
It is often suggested that the competition from the existence of the charter schools would raise the standards in the conventional schools as well. Cardon (2003, p. 736) suggests that that ‘depends on the interaction of quality and output in the cost function’.
One of the main objections to charter schools is that they attract a large percentage of good pupils. According to Hudson Institute, 63% of charter school students are non- white, 20% are African-American and 30% Hispanic. Besides that, 19% do not have very good English proficiency and 20% have learning disabilities (Tooley, 2000). That is happening maybe because the parents of these pupils have lost their confidence in conventional schools and seek an alternative or that the officials of the public schools are pushing these pupils to the charter schools so that their schools will raise their standards (Bohte, 2004). Weiher and Tedin (2002) found that racial factors are a very important predictor of which school children will attend.
Gill (2001) suggests that researchers have not yet come to an agreement concerning the performance of charter schools. One of the main reasons is that there is no basis for comparison since the different schools have different curricula, methods, etc.. Miron and Nelson (2001, p. 30) report that ‘in most cases this is due to limitations in available data as well as a lack of requests by the policymakers that legislated these reforms to evaluate them’.
Bohte, J. (2004) Examining the Impact of Charter Schools on Performance in Traditional Public Schools, The Policy Studies Journal, Vol.32, No.4.
Buddin, R. and Zimmer, R. (2005) Student Achievement in Charter Schools: A Complex Picture, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Vol.24, No.2, pp.351–371.
Cardon, J.H. (2003) Strategic quality choice and charter schools, Journal of Public Economics, 87, pp.729–737.
Center for Education Reform http://www.edreform.com/ (Visited 26-June-2005)
Curtis, P. (2004) Model schools 'failing to improve results', The Guardian, August 17.
http://education.guardian.co.uk/newschools/story/0,14729,1285035,00.html (visited 1-July-2005)
Dee, T. S. and Fu Do, H. (2004) Charter schools skim students or drain resources?, Economics of Education Review 23, pp.259–271.
Finn,C. E. Jr., Manno, B. V., Vanourek, G.(2000) Charter Schools: A Public-Building Strategy That Creates Communities, National Civic Review, vol.89, no.3, Fall.
Gill, B. P., Timpane, P. M., Ross, K. E., & Brewer, D. J. (2001) Rhetoric versus reality: What we know and what we need to know about vouchers and charter schools, Santa Monica,
Miron, G. and Nelson, C (2001) Student Academic Achievement in Charter Schools: What We Know and Why We Know So Little, Occasional Paper No.41, National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education Teachers College, Columbia University, December.
Sarason, S. B. (1999) Commentary Leadership and charter schools, International journal of leadership in education, Vol.2, No.4, pp.379- 381.
Tooley, J. (2000) Charter schools, Economic affairs, September.
U.S. Department of Education (2004) Innovations in Education: Successful Charter Schools, Washington, D.C.: Office of Innovation and Improvement.
Weiher, G. R. and Tedin, K. L. (2002) Does Choice Lead to Racially Distinctive Schools? Charter Schools and Household Preferences, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Vol.21, No.1, pp.79–92.
Zimmer, R., Buddin, R., Chau, D., Daley, G., Gill, B., Guarino, C., Hamilton, L., Krop, C., McCaffrey, D., Sandler, M., & Brewer, D. (2003) Charter school operations and performance: Evidence from California, Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation.
Charter Schools Development Center
The website contains information on expert assistance, training to charter schools providers nationally and internationally.
National Association of Charter School Authorizers
The website is sustained by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers that authorise and oversee charter schools.
US Charter Schools
This website is the area where school developers, authorizers, and operators gather and exchange ideas.