Are Charter Schools Better Than Public Schools?

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Aug 18, 2017

What exactly are charter schools? Are they good for students? Watch this video and decide for yourself if they help or hurt public education.

This video is part of a collaborative business and economics project with Job Creators Network and Information Station. To learn more, visit informationstation.org.

Charter schools open up the potential for innovative approaches to education—and save taxpayers money in the process. 

  • In 1991, Minnesota passed the first law in the United States establishing charter schools.View Source
  • Charter schools offer education ranging in grades K-12 without charge to students.View Source
  • Charter schools are funded with tax dollars, but are generally subject to fewer rules and regulations than traditional public schools.View Source
  • They usually receive less public funds per pupil than public schools. Researchers from the University of Arkansas found that, in 2010-2011, there was a 28.6% funding disparity between public and charter school pupils. The average charter school received $3,814 fewer dollars per pupil than traditional public schools.View Source
  • When a student stays one year at a charter school, they offer a 3 percent higher return per dollar invested than if they had attended a traditional public school. If the student spends half of their school career (6.5 years), in the charter school, this advantage jumps to 19 percent higher return per dollar invested.View Source

Since 2000, enrollment in charter schools has increased 600%, encouraging faster improvement among existing schools.

  • As of 2016, there are almost 7,000 charter schools serving almost 3 million students.View Source
  • Since 2000, charter school enrollment has increased by 600 percent.View Source
  • In a recent survey by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, more than 70% of parents supported opening a charter school in their neighborhood.View Source
  • According to a 2015 Stanford study, the typical student in an urban charter school receives the equivalent of 40 additional days of learning growth in math and 28 days of additional growth in reading compared to their matched peers in public school.View Source
  • A 2017 study from Temple University that examined public and charter schools in New York City found that charter schools had a positive impact on nearby or co-located public schools.View Source

As charter schools have become more popular and successful, opposition from the notoriously self-serving teachers unions has grown. 

  • In a recent survey by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, more than 70% of parents supported opening a charter school in their neighborhood.View Source
  • In response to this growth in popularity, the NAACP has allied with the NEA teachers union to oppose charter schools.View Source
  • In 2002, a Philadelphia charter school was given only 3.8 of the 11 million it was promised to receive. Public schools were threatened by the charter and refused to share funding.View Source
  • In 2017, a Massachusetts teachers union voted to shut down a successful charter school that had been converted from a failing public school.View Source

Do charter schools hurt public schools? No. They offer students more options, and the competition forces public schools to improve.

  • Teachers unions and other public school activists argue that charter schools take money away from traditional public schools.View Source
  • But charter schools don’t syphon money away from public schools. In New York, a study from Temple University found that when charter schools were co-located with public schools, spending per student increased 9 percent.View Source
  • Charter schools also don’t affect the achievement of public school students. A study from the Manhattan Institute of New York City schools found that for every 1 percent of a public school’s students that leave for a charter school, the reading ability of those who stay increased about 0.02 standard deviations.View Source
  • Contrary to the stance of the NEA and NAACP, when public and charter schools coexist, both systems win.View Source

Why do teachers unions oppose charters schools? One major reason is they often don’t employ unionized teachers. 

  • The NAACP and NEA oppose charter schools not because they harm public school students, but because charter schools often don’t employ unionized teachers.View Source
  • In a recent survey by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, more than 70% of parents supported opening a charter school in their neighborhood.View Source
  • In response to this growth in popularity, the NAACP has allied with the NEA teachers union to oppose charter schools.View Source
  • Contrary to the stance of the NEA and NAACP, when public and charter schools coexist, both systems win.View Source

Historically, education in the United States has been split between private schools, and traditional public schools. However, this dynamic changed in 1991 when Minnesota passed the first law establishing charter schools in the state. Since then, a majority of states have some kind of charter school system. But what exactly is a charter school?

Charter schools offer education ranging in grades K-12 without charge to students. Charter schools are funded with tax dollars, but are generally subject to fewer rules and regulations than traditional public schools, and they usually receive less public funds per pupil than public schools. Charter school students typically take the same state-required standardized tests as public school students.

Depending on state law, these schools can be started by parents, teachers, non-profit groups, corporations, or even government organizations. Charter schools may focus on specific skills and subjects like math or science, or may be aimed at students who require alternative learning methods -- such as teaching lessons that use visual or more hands-on approaches. But these entities just can't start one whenever they please. They must first obtain authorization from either the school district, city, or state -- depending on how the charter school laws are structured.

And the charter school model has achieved various levels of success. Over the past 25 years, the number of charter schools in the U.S. has skyrocketed, forcing more competition and faster improvement among existing public and private schools. As of 2016, there are almost 7,000 charter schools serving 3 million students. And since 2000, charter school enrollment has increased by 600 percent.

But as charter schools have become more popular, opposition has grown. Teachers unions and other public school activists argue that charter schools take money away from traditional public schools. However, it's unfair to hold minority parents and students hostage in underperforming public schools. Overall, charter schools have provided an entrepreneurial challenge to the status quo and delivered results that make it worth expanding this option for parents.

According to a 2015 Stanford study, not only do charter schools provide significantly higher levels of growth in math and reading for all students, but minority and low income students benefit disproportionally more.

Charter schools are becoming a bigger part of the U.S. education system every year -- and for millions of American families they offer a much-needed choice that's different than a one-size fits all public school.

Every other sector of the American economy has benefited from the ability to compete and improve -- why not Education?

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