Charter schools are a stream of public education that is funded through the government and taxpayers’ money but are privately run. They are a key element of the neoliberal education paradigm.
Charter schools have skyrocketed in popularity in recent years—over 7,000 charter schools operate in North America—with over 3 million students enrolled. Charter schools have risen in popularity for many reasons—but the main factors are the variety in education that charter schools provide and the flexibility that students and parents get through these schools.
However, the capitalist nature of charter schools has resulted in the continuous exploitiation of government funds, and comprises the quality of education that children receive.
It is important for parents to be aware of this aspect of charter schools so they can do their proper research on charter schools they may be considering.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Charter Schools (Table Summary)
|Advantages of Charter Schools
|Disadvantages of Charter Schools
|1. Innovative teaching methods
|1. Charter schools vary by state
|2. Embrace of individual learning styles
|2. Charter schools vary in quality
|3. Tight-knit community feel
|3. Admissions processes can be messy
|4. Charter schools are more accountable
|4. High teacher turnover rates
|5. Increased parent participation
|5. Parents are often expected to volunteer
|6. High admission rates to top universities
|6. Fundraising is common
|7. Higher test scores
|7. Potential misuse of school funding
|8. Little to no direct fees to parents
|8. Limits on school amenities and resources
|9. Potential for lower student diversity
|10. More effective teaching methods
|10. Some charter schools get shut down
Pros of Charter Schools
1. Innovative Teaching Methods
Since charter schools are privately managed and operate through private contracts, they face fewer government regulations than traditional public schools and are have more flexibility in their approaches to education and teaching.
This means that charter schools do not have to follow standard education curriculum that’s instructed by the government as closely as regular public schools, though they still have to maintain certain basic standards.
The flexibility that charter schools offer in their teaching and education methods attracts parents and students alike—especially if the student’s individual learning needs require more flexibility or personalization to be effective.
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2. Embraces Individual Learning Styles
All students have unique learning needs and can benefit from some teaching methods more than others.
Since there are thousands of charter schools to choose from, parents and children can find schools that meet their child’s particular learning skills and needs.
Differentiated learning is a huge benefit and attraction of the charter school system. Education is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, and teachers should take into consideration the unique needs of every student in their classrooms.
3. Tight-knit Community Feel
Charter schools on average tend to have fewer students and smaller class sizes, which helps foster a close-knit community feel.
Smaller classrooms offer students significant advantages. Teachers have more time to interact with students one-on-one and get a better sense of their individual learning needs, along with any areas of weakness. Students have more time to bond on a deeper level with their classmates.
Smaller classrooms can create a comfortable learning environment where students feel confident participating, being themselves and teachers are able to give more attention to each student’s needs.
4. Charter schools are more accountable
Since charter schools are managed through individual contracts that set their own curriculum and educational focus, they should be more accountable to the education objectives that they’ve identified as their focus.
Students that attend the Charter School of Wilmington, which is a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) oriented school, can expect to receive an education that is more focused on sciences and mathematics, and the Charter School of Wilmington is expected to meet the education standard that they advertised to parents and students.
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4. Increased parent participation
Charter schools encourage parent involvement in their child’s education, and often include parents in their child’s learning progress on a deeper level than public schools.
Parents are usually the ones responsible for selecting the charter school, and oftentimes they want to be involved in their child’s learning progress to make sure schools are meeting their standards and learning objectives.
Greater parental involvement in children’s education is known to result in better overall achievement, so this is a big benefit of charter schools on a broad level.
5. Charter schools give students and parents options
Charter schools were created out of a need to provide more education options to students that were not succeeding in the standard public school system.
Charter schools have since widened experimentation in the field of education, and have resulted in innovative teaching methods that have been effective for many students.
With over 7,000 operating charter schools to choose from, parents and students have a wide range to select from when it comes to their child’s education.
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6. High admission rates to top universities
Recent studies have shown that students in charter schools have high chances of getting accepted into top universities after graduating.
This could be due to a variety of factors—smaller classroom sizes, more engaged teachers and customized education all play a part in improving the overall quality of education, and increased test scoring and admission rates.
7. Higher test scores
This leads to the next point—charter schools tend to lead to high test scores, and have outperformed traditional public schools in the same neighbourhood.
Teachers at charter schools are expected to customize their lesson plans to meet the individual learning styles of their students.
8. Little to no tuition fees for students and parents
Charter schools are publicly funded, and so they are free for students to attend, which is a crucial benefit when it comes to underprivileged or underserved communities that cannot afford to pay for schooling.
Many families can’t afford to pay extra for their child’s education, and their child may have learning needs that are not met standard public schooling.
Charter schools being tuition-free allows parents to consider the option of charter schools without the worry of additional costs and expenses.
9. Curriculum specialization
Charter schools often set their own curriculum standards, so they can choose to focus on certain academic subjects more than others.
As we saw with the Charter School of Wilmington, they focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math,) this way, parents can choose from schools with specific learning goals and objectives.
This is a huge advantage of charter schools because many students want to focus on subjects that interest them, either because it’s their passion or they may want to pursue the subject in higher education or as a possible career choice.
10. More effective teaching methods
Charter schools encourage innovation and experimentation in their teaching and lesson planning because they face significantly fewer government restrictions and oversight, which would require them to conform to conventional teaching methods.
This allows room for innovation and the development of more effective teaching practices, leading to better student performance.
Cons of Charter Schools
1. Charter Schools vary by state
While charter schools enjoy more flexibility than public schools, they still have to follow some regulations laid out by the state or province where they are located.
Some states have firmer regulations on curriculum modifications or changes they allow charter schools to make.
This impacts the amount of freedom and flexibility charter schools are given in their educational planning and curriculum.
2. Charter Schools vary significantly in quality
Since charter schools face fewer government regulations and oversight, the quality of education in some of these charter schools is clearly lacking.
There is a huge disparity in the quality of education that exists between various charter schools.
Some charter schools have exceptional education standards, whereas others may not be properly managed and the quality of education they deliver can be compromised as a result.
3. Admissions processes can be messy
Charter schools receive thousands of applicants each year. This makes it challenging for parents and students to get admitted to decent schools, despite the growing number of charter schools in existence.
There are long waitlists with some charter schools, with some applicants waiting upwards of months to hear back about whether or not they’ve been accepted.
4. Charter schools have a higher teacher turnover rate
Charter schools lose significantly more teachers each year than public schools.
In the United States, charter schools lose 24% of their teachers each year, which is double that of traditional public schools. For some students, the goals laid out by charter schools might not align with their own individual learning styles and objectives. Students that hate math or science likely won’t want to attend a charter school which focuses on sciences and mathematics.
In this way, charter schools are more exclusive to students that share their learning goals and limit access to other students with different goals.
5. Charter schools sometimes expect parents to volunteer
Charter schools on average have fewer employers and staff managing their schools.
Charter schools sometimes rely on the parents of their students to support the school’s activities, extra-curriculars and so forth.
The downside is that for some parents, dedicating time or money may not be a viable option, and if the school is unable to find replacement volunteers then education programing is disrupted and students are impacted.
6. Charter Schools may need to fundraise
While charter schools are funded by the government, if they want more funding to support further education progarms, projects or student events, they often have to fundraise to get the funding required.
Parents usually engage in fundraising efforts, along with the school’s management board.
The need to fundraise during the school year can add stress and frustration to parents and students, especially if events are being cancelled due to a lack of funds.
7. Potential misuse of school funding
Charter schools receive government and local funding to operate their schools.
The problem is that since charter schools receive less government oversight, it makes it much easier for people running these schools to inefficiently use these funds, or attempt fraud or misappropriate school funding.
This is a major red-flag when it comes to charter schools because people can take advantage of the charter school system and its blind spots, and exploit funding meant to educate children.
8. Limits on school amenities and resources
While this is not true for all charter schools, some charter schools lack the funds (or misuse their funds) to set up necessary school amenities and resources.
Gym equipment, sports teams uniforms and other essential school-related items can all be compromised when charter schools are unable to find these resources and make them available to their students.
9. Less student diversity
Since charter schools target specific groups with identified learning goals, or underserved communities, this can minimize the amount of diversity within the overall student population and increase segregration between minority groups.
While focusing on specific academic areas is not necessarily a bad thing, it does leave less room to engage in other disciplines and discourages students with differing academic talents to apply to those schools.
10. Some charter schools get shut down
While charter schools face fewer government regulations, they still have to meet certain education standards set out by the state government to operate.
Many charter schools fail to meet the minimum education standards that are required, and in these cases, schools can be forced to shut down, which significantly disrupts student learning during the academic year.
This is a major concern when it comes to enrolling students in charter schools, and is something to keep in mind when assessing the qualifications of different charter schools.
Charter schools have plenty of advantages and disadvantages.
In general, charter schools all differ from each other, and to get a deeper understanding of any school, the best course of action is to investigate or contact the specific schools you are curious about to learn more.
Charter schools are a great option to explore if public schools are not meeting expectations, or if you are looking for a more individualized learning approach for to better suit your child’s needs.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]