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Charter Schools Versus Public Schools, Essay Example

Pages: 4

Words: 1177

Essay

The debate about comparative advantages and disadvantages of learning in charter and in public schools has been going since the establishment of the first charter school. In this paper, we will investigate the main differences at the levels of organization, financing and learning outcomes.

The idea of charter schools first appeared in 1980-ies when Ray Budde, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, suggested creating “schools of choice” and called for the reform of public schools which was supported by Albert Shanker, President of the American Federation of Teachers. By definition, charter schools are independent public schools. They exist on public funding, but they are freed from a number of laws and regulations which public schools have to abide by. Charter schools are regulated by a contract (a charter) in which a school’s mission, its academic goals, and accountability procedures are stated. The parameters for the contracts are determined by state laws and the correspondence is to be checked by a charter school authorizer – usually the local school district agency.

What possibilities does their relative autonomy give to charter schools in comparison to public schools? Charter schools are supposed to provide greater educational choice and innovation within the public school system. The initiative to found a charter school often belongs to teachers and parents who feel too restricted by the limits of traditional public school education. Originally, charter schools must not charge tuition, have religious affiliation, or selective student admission. However, unlike public schools, charter schools today are not neighborhood schools. The practice for applicants is often to compete for a seat through a lottery held in the city. Charter schools claim that their critical difference from public schools lies in the fact that they are accountable for student outcomes rather than for processes or inputs.

What is the appeal of charter schools for parents and children? Although charters ensure the full range of grade levels just like public schools, they create unique combinations or spans. Further, they tend to enroll a more diverse body of students. Usually charter schools are smaller than public ones, which accounts for their attractiveness for parents as smaller size is associated with more individualized approach to students, greater safety, and increased student involvement. The Center for Education Reform’s report of 2002 states that the average charter school enrollment is 242 students compared to 539 in traditional public schools. The students of charter schools are usually more racially diverse than the students of public schools but there are fewer students with special needs or limited English proficiency in charters. According to 2002 report by SRI International, a nonprofit research organization, more than half of charter school students are members of ethnic minority groups and 12% receive special education services. Amazingly, many reports claim that charter schools appear more racially segregated than regular public schools and thus deny their students the benefits of racial and ethnic diversity in education. Such contradictory reviews are another indication of the complexity in obtaining objective comprehensive data on the performance of schools.

An annual survey of 2007 held by the Center for Education Reform indicated that 54% of charter school students qualified for free or reduced lunches, which is a sign of how many low-income students a school enrolls. According to the same survey, about half of all charter school students fall into categories that are classified as “at risk”, which is more than the average figures for regular public schools.

Another powerful argument often used in favor of charter schools is that they tend to have a more specialized and ambitious educational program than public schools. Charter schools are known for adopting alternative curricular approaches like direct instruction or Core Knowledge and for putting a special emphasis on particular fields of study. Many charter schools are even launching distance learning programs.

From the viewpoint of financing, charter schools present are quite different from traditional public schools. Despite the fact that charters live on taxes, they are privately owned and regulated by self-appointed board of trustees. In fact, charter schools are at the heart of the privatization movement in the field of education.

Many argue that inequalities in funding put public schools at a disadvantage. For example, while public schools and charter schools receive equal funding payment per pupil, charter schools get an additional allowance of $2400 per student which is not connected with actual rent payments. Congress allocates equal sums to charter and public schools, but since the number of students in charter schools is much less, they turn out to receive a more substantial sum per capita. Moreover, charter schools receive more private donations. For instance, the conservative Walton Family Foundation is the largest private sponsor of charter schools nationwide.

Public schools complain that charter schools are drawing students away, which results in under-enrollment, fewer teachers willing to work in public schools, fewer programs developed for them and, naturally, less funding. Many feel that charter schools are failing to keep the promise of being “laboratories of innovation” that have to present new solutions for public school”. Too little cooperation between charter and public schools results in tough competition.

The student outcomes of charter schools are widely questioned. Although charter schools set clear and high performance goals and state them in the contracts, many observers doubt that academics and student achievement in charter schools are properly monitored. An American Federation of Teachers report of 2002 revealed that many authorized charter schools had failed to hold their contracts accountable with many students ending in low-performing schools. Autonomy may also mean increased vulnerability to financial problems and mismanagement resulting from dependence on private owners.

The researchers find it extremely hard to say which type of schools provides better education.

In Washington, where more students attend charter schools than in any other city in the country (about 20% of all students), the debate about comparative quality of education is especially heated and involves competing teams of experts who make various attempts at estimating academic results in each type of schools. In a preliminary National Assessment for Education Progress data it was stated that charter schools were behind traditional public schools by approximately a half year of standardized test scores. This report was met a great number of claims that the academic gap was in favor of charter schools reinforced by statistics. When interviewed, independent researchers and teachers tend to say that while there are some fabulous charter schools, others do not work satisfactorily and the same holds true for public schools. Researchers agree that often parents’ preferences and the professionalism of individual teachers and principals accounts for the success of a school no matter whether it is charter of public. No one would take the liberty to claim that every charter school is better than every regular public school.

References

Education Week (2004). Charter Schools. Retrieved 8 May, 2009, from http://www.edweek.org/rc/issues/charter-schools/

Dobbs M. (2004). Charter vs. Traditional. Retrieved 8 May, 2009, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A64713-2004Dec14.html

Save Our Schools. Charter Schools vs. Public Schools. Retrieved 8 May, 2009, from www.saveourschoolsdc.org/pdf/ChartersSchools_vs_PublicSchools.pdf

Murarka S. (2004). Charter Schools vs. Traditional Public Schools: Comparing Schools that Work with Students of Limited English Proficiency. Retrieved 8 May, 2009, from www.stanford.edu/dept/publicpolicy/programs/Honors_Theses/Theses_2004/ Murarka.pdf

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