Don't Let the School Choose You: Charter Schools

Nationwide, hundreds of elementary and secondary schools are "accredited with warning" or face serious budgetary crises, much to the chagrin of teachers, students and parents alike. To some, school choice can be a dirty word signaling a lack of faith in the public school system and parents hoping to move their students out of failing schools to more successful institutions may face an uphill battle. However, as more parents and educators embrace school choice and varying models and methods of non-traditional education, many school districts have chosen to reap the whirlwind and offer more alternatives. Some of the most prevalent options sweeping the nation are charter schools, magnet schools, homeschooling, and open-enrollment programs. But are these options better or just different?

A Brief History of the Charter

Since the first charter school opened in 1991, 43 states and the District of Columbia have approved the formation of charter school programs with the remaining seven states moving closer to adopting school choice legislation. As of 2015, 6,700 public charter schools service about 2.9 million students nationwide. Without question, charter schools have experienced the greatest and fastest growth as an alternate to public schools in recent years. Generally speaking, charter schools are state-funded institutions governed as their respective state law dictates. However, charter schools only receive about 64% of the funding that public schools are allotted leaving a heavy burden on families of means to make donations.

Parents Choose Charter

Why are parents flocking to charter schools even though they receive less funding? Resoundingly, the answer is 'choice'. There are charter schools specializing in music and the arts, classical education, law, STEM, international studies, learning or behavioral disabilities, and many more. One Minnesota parent and educator commented that he is happy to donate to his daughter's charter school if it will continue to accommodate her needs. "She's a gifted student and the neighborhood school just isn't academically advanced enough. She read all the books in [her school's] library by the time she was 13...she was a big fish in a small pond and that's just not the experience I wanted for her." When asked if private school was ever an option, he scoffed. "I know the economy is supposed to be improving, but I'm not feeling it. I'm a middle school teacher. I can't afford to send my daughter to a school that costs as much as college...and then pay for college. Her charter school will prepare her as well as any private school." Parents that are not financially capable of enrolling their students in private institutions -- or simply choose not to -- enjoy many of the same benefits in charter education. Many charter schools have taken to requiring uniforms or strict dress codes for their students to keep the focus on education. Most require a higher degree of parental involvement ranging from online programs in which parents can track attendance and grades to home visits from teachers, more frequent parent-teacher conferences, mandatory parental contribution to school activities and more. Charter schools embrace the central tenant of accountability which cuts much of the bureaucracy that parents may experience with a typical public education. Parents can vote with their dollars and with their feet on the success of their school and administrators pay attention.

But accountability can be a double-edged sword leading charter schools to shut their doors at a much higher rate than public schools. These schools -- already operating at a disadvantage in terms of state funding -- often serve minority and underprivileged populations which can mean little to no donations from parents or the community. Additionally, many states have strict laws about underperforming charter schools while poorly performing public schools may slip through the cracks for years. Texas implemented a "three-strikes and you're out" policy for charter schools in 2014 in which the state can pull the charter of any school that underperforms for three consecutive years. Similarly, Louisiana reevaluates its school charters every five years.

States Choose Charter

Certainly not all charter schools are as competitive as private schools, there is a direct correlation between the success of charter schools and state support through strong legislation. Arizona legislation provides strong support to its local charter schools and as a result about 31% of the state's schools are chartered. "You know, charter schools allow so much variation in academics and nutrition and specials that it's hard not to be able to find one that works better for your child than the local public school," Nadine Shaalan, an Arizona charter school mom said of her defection from the state public school system. Shaalan's son has attended his Arizona charter school for six years and experiences a rigorous, classical curriculum, smaller classroom sizes, and better access to resources than his district counterparts. "Then again," Shaalan continued "If there were no good options in charter, I would definitely consider the local public school."

Coaching for Charters

Research shows Academic Coaching helps students make connections between cognitive and non-cognitive skill sets, improves retention, supports online learning environments, and has positive effects on students with executive function disorders, like ADHD. Many Charter schools serve underprivileged students and minorities, and students with developmental and behavioral disabilities. Research shows that when these students receive proper direction and feel connected to their community they are more likely to graduate. Coaching will provide these students and their educators with the tools and confidence they need to succeed both in college, the workplace and their community. In LifeBound's Academic Coaching training, teachers, professors, faculty, staff, and advisors learn how to develop strong student-coach relationships and coach students to develop the non-cognitive skills they need to be successful in school, career, and life.