The benefits of charter schools are many, which is why the school choice movement has been rolling strong in education reform for more than thirty years. Charters offer alternatives to traditional public schools by operating with more autonomy and flexibility in exchange for meeting specific performance standards. In low-income urban areas, some charter schools have been successful in providing educational opportunities equivalent to private schools. In this report, we will focus on the benefits of charter schools for inner-city students and families, discuss why we need more charters, and why it is time to migrate away from the 20th-century model of district-run schools. Let’s begin by exploring some of the overarching benefits of charter schools.
What are Charter Schools
Charter schools are publicly funded schools of choice. Unlike costly private schools, charter schools are free to parents as they are funded through tax dollars. These schools are a great boost for economically disadvantaged students whose neighborhood public school or their public school system is substandard or failing.
Unfortunately, in some states, charter schools receive less funding than their public school counterparts, but for the most part, they have excelled at doing more with less. New York City’s charter schools are an excellent example of this model, as are other cities such as Philadelphia, PA.
Overall, the advantages and benefits of charter schools are many, as the following sections detail.
Parental choice is often considered one of the top benefits of charter schools. This is validated by the overarching intent of each state’s charter law, which is to ensure Charter schools give parents the option to choose a school that fits their child’s specific needs.
School choice is particularly important for inner-city families where traditional schools are often underperforming and lack the resources to provide all students with an adequate educational experience. Charter schools offer an alternative to traditional schools and give more options regarding curriculum, special education, or student support. For example, a parent may choose a charter school that has a specific focus on STEM education or college preparation. Another parent might choose a school that offers smaller class sizes and a well-funded autistic support program.
Unlike traditional public schools, which assign schools based on zip code, charter schools allow parents to choose a school that best fits their child’s unique needs or goals. For example, the KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) charter schools, which operate in 27 states, provide a rigorous and supportive education to low-income students of color. The Success Academy Charter Schools in New York City, have a record of academic achievement and provide a highly structured and disciplined learning environment.
Smaller Class Sizes
One of the top benefits of charter schools is small class size. And for many parents, the key considerations in choosing a charter school is the average number of students it has in each class. On average, charter schools offer smaller class sizes. This arrangement allows for more individualized attention and tailored instruction, which is particularly important for students who are behind academically or have specific learning needs. With smaller class sizes, teachers can provide more one-on-one support and differentiate their instruction to meet the needs of each student. Green Dot Public Schools in Los Angeles, which serve mostly low-income students of color, have an average class size of 25 students compared to the district average of 32 students.
Some charter schools that have average class sizes are still able to offer more individual student attention by providing a co-teaching environment. School Lane Charter School, which lists Sylvia Marketing & Public Relations as its PR agency of record, offers a co-teaching environment in which instructors are equal partners, which differs from having a teaching assistant. Goethe International Charter School in California, another Sylvia Marketing client, offers co-teaching plus a teaching assistant in each class.
Because of their smaller sizes, charter schools also provide a safer environment, mostly free from the daily dangers of overcrowded regular schools.
Innovative and Flexible Curriculum
As mentioned above, charter schools are often more innovative and flexible in their approach to curriculum than traditional public schools. The school’s operating charter, or “contract,” details its unique approach. Charter schools enjoy more autonomy and can experiment with new teaching methods and curricula without being bound by the bureaucracy of a centralized system. known to keep public school districts stuck in antiquated systems, which are no longer the best approach to education. For example, the High-Tech High charter schools in California, which serve a diverse student population, use project-based learning to engage students in real-world problem-solving. The SEED Schools, which operate in Washington D.C. and Maryland, provide a highly structured and supportive environment that includes a longer school day, longer school year, and a college-preparatory curriculum.
Closing the Achievement Gap
Charter schools have been successful in closing the achievement gap for students of color and low-income students. This is partly because charter schools are held accountable for their performance and must meet specific academic standards to keep their charter. In addition, many charter schools have a specific focus or mission, such as STEM education or college preparation, which can help students who may not otherwise have had access to these opportunities. For example, the Uncommon Schools, which operate in several states including Massachusetts and New Jersey, have a record of academic achievement for low-income students of color. The Alliance College-Ready Public Schools in Los Angeles, which serve mostly low-income Latino and African American students, has a 95% graduation rate, far higher than the district’s 77% average.
Strong Community and Support
Charter schools offer a community environment. This is because they are often smaller and more focused on building relationships between teachers, students, and families. For example, a charter school may have a mentorship program or a family engagement coordinator who works to build relationships with families and provide support outside of the classroom. The IDEA Public Schools in Texas has a college-focused culture and provide extensive support to students to prepare them for college and beyond. The Noble Network of Charter Schools in Chicago has a culture of high expectations and a focus on character development, which includes community service and leadership opportunities. There are many benefits of charter schools, and the community-feel is right at the top for many families.
Charter School Accountability
Charter schools are held accountable for their performance and can be shut down if they fail to meet certain standards. This accountability can lead to a greater focus on academic achievement and better outcomes for students. For example, the Success Academy Charter Schools mentioned above has a rigorous academic program and focus on discipline and behavior, which has led to high levels of academic achievement. Mastery Charter Schools in Philadelphia have a record of improving academic outcomes for low-income students of color and have been recognized for its innovative approaches to education.
One of the Best Benefits of Charter Schools: Private School-Level Quality
While the benefits of charter schools are many for inner-city students, one stands out for all students. Some charter schools provide private school-level quality education in a tuition-free setting. Of those, some offer advanced academic programs, such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, which is typically associated with elite private schools. For example, the IDEA Public Schools mentioned above offers the IB program to high school students, which provides them with an internationally recognized diploma and a rigorous college-preparatory curriculum. The BASIS Charter Schools, which operate in several states, including Arizona and Texas, also offer an advanced academic program similar to IB.
Another Advantage of Charter Schools: Unique Opportunities Unavailable Elsewhere
Charter schools can provide unique learning styles for students that are not available in traditional public schools. For example, the Global Leadership Academy Charter School in Philadelphia offers an expeditionary program that takes students on immersive, hands-on learning experiences outside of the classroom. This includes expeditionary learning in each grade that begins in kindergarten, culminating in overseas excursions in 8th grade.
Why More Charter Schools Are Needed
Clearly, the benefits of charter schools are many. Despite the success of charter schools in inner city areas, there is still a need for more of these schools. There simply are not enough seats to offer students. That means that charters schools must use a lottery system to determine who gets in and who ends up on enrollment waitlists.
Traditional urban schools often suffer from systemic underfunding, which leads to a lack of resources and support for students and teachers. As a result, students in certain zip codes do not have access to the same quality education as students in affluent areas. In turn, parents and students flee to charter schools, but many will never see the other side of a waitlist.
Charter schools offer a viable solution to the problem of systemic racism and underfunding in inner city education. As we shared thus far, charter schools provide greater choice, smaller class sizes, innovative curriculum, and robust community support. They are closing the achievement gap fs. As such, we need to expand access to charter schools to provide more students with the opportunity to receive a high-quality education that meets their specific needs. By doing so, we can create a more equitable and diverse educational system that supports the success of all students.
The Antiquated 20th-Century Model of District-Run Public Schools
While the benefits of charter schools are many in the 21st Century, the same can no longer be said for school districts. The 20th-century model of district-run schools was based on a centralized system that once worked, but now it often fails to meet the needs of urban students. This system was characterized by a lack of accountability, bureaucratic red tape, and underfunding, which led to systemic racism and inequalities in education.
It’s time to migrate away from the 20th-century model of district-run schools and embrace the benefits of the charter school system. This doesn’t mean that we should completely abandon traditional public schools, but rather that we should create a more diverse and flexible educational system that meets the needs of all students. Charter schools have shown that they can provide high-quality education to students in inner city areas, and we need to expand access to these schools to ensure that more students have the opportunity to succeed.
Taking a look at when the covid-19 pandemic hit New York, Philadelphia, and other cities, we see a common thread. Studies show charter schools were three times more prepared to get their students through the pandemic from the initial switch to virtual learning to the eventual return to the classroom. The ramifications on education were huge as more traditional school students remain behind to this day than charter students because of the shutdowns. Huge, antiquated bureaucracies lack the ability to respond and adapt during crises compared to independent, community-based charter schools. In comparison, the benefits of charter schools are many in the 21st Century but even fewer for traditional schools.
More Pros than Cons of Charter Schools
The benefits of charter schools are many, especially for inner city students and families. Those include greater choice, smaller class sizes, innovative curriculum, a community environment, and closing the achievement gap. While traditional public schools have a vital role to play in our education system, it’s time to embrace the benefits of charter schools and create a more diverse and flexible educational system that meets the needs of all students.
As a word of caution, when it comes to finding a charter school for your child it’s imperative to look at the big picture, and not make your decision solely on the need to escape the local public school. Charter schools are given the freedom to operate independently and differently than regular public schools. And, each have unique missions, so it’s important to understand their focuses, research their teachers and administrators, and visit the school before enrolling. And like any other form of education, there are pros and cons of individual charter schools you should first learn.
While the benefits of charter schools are many, they are not for everyone, they have proven to be one of the most effective, if not the most effective forms of public education in 21st century k-12 learning. If you’re thinking about enrolling your child in a charter school, do your homework, because not only should you choose any public school for your child with the same scrutiny you would for choosing a college, what you choose could determine whether your child will get into college.
Support the School in Which You Enroll Your Child — and the Movement
The benefits of charter schools are many, but there is one other thing to consider. Charter schools are also a moving target. There is plenty of opposition to the charter school movement by those who want to keep the status quo, such as teachers’ unions. So it’s important that of-age students and parents get involved in lobbying elected officials to support charters and participate in state association events such as “school choice week” and annual “Day on the Hill.” Get to know the school teachers and administrators who are school choice activists. Connect with them on social media and sign up for their newsletters. These leaders know the needs of their students, but they need families’ stories as examples for when they lobby. Parental involvement is the force that makes the school choice movement it has become.