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Is a Charter School Right for Your Child?

As of 2010, more than 5,000 charter schools have popped up in communities across the U.S. They are becoming a popular option for parents seeking an alternative to traditional public schools without the price tag of a private education.

While charter schools are on the rise, there are not enough to keep up with parent demand. In 2010, the number of charter schools in the U.S. grew by 9 percent, serving more than 1.7 million students, according to the Center for Education Reform. Meanwhile, demand for charter schools grew by 21 percent. For every charter school, 239 students are turned away because of full enrollment, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy reported.

What Are Charter Schools?
Charter schools began in the early 1990s as publicly funded schools that offer families another choice in the education system. They are not private schools and do not have tuition.

Charter schools are not held to many of the rules and regulations of traditional public schools. For example, the schools can create their own curriculum and grading systems, and teachers are not required to have a master's degree or state teaching certification.

In return for having fewer rules, charter schools are expected to achieve specific educational outcomes within a certain period (usually three to five years) or have their charters revoked by the state.

Here are some aspects of charter schools that may appeal to parents:

  • Admission is open to all students in the communities a charter school serves, including special needs students. Any student can apply, but if more students apply than there are spaces available, students are selected by a random lottery.
  • Charter schools tend to be smaller schools, with an average of about 200 students vs. about 500 in traditional public schools. Some parents say they have a smaller, community feel with "less bureaucracy."
  • Charter schools tend to "create a community hub," according to the Center for Education Reform. They can bring together students and parents from all different backgrounds in a safe educational setting in many violence- and poverty-stricken urban and rural neighborhoods where they operate.
  • Some charter schools have a specific academic focus, such as science and math or the arts.
Charter schools are also gaining popularity and awareness because of proponents President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, as well as hard-hitting, pro-education reform documentaries like Waiting for Superman.

Charter schools exist in 40 states and Washington, D.C., but most of these states have laws that cap the total number of charter schools, their enrollment numbers, and their funding, so supply has not kept pace with demand.


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