Charter schools are changing public education with California, New Orleans and other areas leading the charge away from traditional public schools and traditional school districts. Many parents, myself included, agree with the move away from government control to mere oversight.
California leads the country in opening charter schools and percentage of students statewide that attend them. Now, 10.7 percent of students in the state’s public schools attend charters compared with 6.3 percent nationally. In some cities, the numbers of students in charter schools is overwhelming: New Orleans, 90 percent; Detroit 51 percent; Washington, D.C. 43 percent; and many other cities topping 30 percent.
Many of the better schools in our area have “gone charter” to have more autonomy within the behemoth Los Angeles Unified School District. Both of my children have gone to smaller independent charters. An assembly bill that failed tried to cap the percentage of schools that can be charter in each area, but the fight over charter schools promises to continue as parents flee from neighborhood schools with their feet and with each child goes the funding.
The first state to pass a law allowing charter schools was Minnesota in 1991. California, where I am from, joining the movement second. Charter schools are publicly funded, accountable for student learning and given more freedom with their curricula to accomplish that learning than schools in the broader school systems. They are overseen in some ways by local school boards but exempt from some laws governing school districts. They operate as non-profit organizations by state law, but receive most funding directly from the state. The money bypassing the district is a sore point for supporters of traditional schools. However, studies have shown this model is working in many areas – so well they are going all charter with New Orleans leading the way.
Charters are also not restricted geographically to give preference to local children like traditional schools that have a set border. This ensures parents can really pick and choose the environments that work best for their kids rather than be forced into a neighborhood school. This supply and demand practice does create lotteries for some schools, but ensures that everyone has a fair shot to attend the good ones.
Is It Working?
The statistics and studies show the effectiveness of local control via charters. For example, charter schools enroll only 19 percent of L.A. high school students, but deliver 37 percent of the city’s college-ready graduates, according to the California Charter School Association.
New Orleans offers a success story and model many other cities, particularly Memphis, Nashville and Kansas City, are reportedly considering. New Orleans schools were failing before Hurricane Katrina damaged many beyond repair. Since then, the city has mostly gone charter (90 percent) and become a district-less school district. Test scores and graduation rates have climbed. In 2012, 77.8 percent of high school students graduated within four years, versus only 54 percent in 2004. Prior to Katrina, less than 6 percent of students in a list of schools identified as failing qualified for college scholarships from the state based on ACT or SAT scores. By 2013, 27 percent qualified.
There are downsides in which charters need to improve, such as programs for special needs children. Additionally, locations for some that were founded separately from local schools leave a lot to be desired. My son went to a charter middle school that converted several stores in a strip mall, and my daughter attends a charter high school that rents four floors of an office building. But, both have received outstanding educations at the schools.
California Charter Schools Grow at Fastest U.S. Rate – Huffington Post
LAUSD Leads Charter School Growth in California and Nation – LA School Report
New Orleans Goes All in on Charter Schools. Is It Showing the Way? – Christian Science Monitor