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Why Charter Schools?

Charter schools stand at the center of our nation’s growing effort to reform and improve public schools and provide greater educational options to every family. Charter schools are independently designed and operated and commit to improve the academic achievement of every student. Like the traditional neighborhood school, charters are public and are open to all students regardless of wealth, gender, race, or religion. Unlike other public schools, however, charters are free from burdensome rules and regulations, so teachers, principals, parents, and students can focus on learning. In exchange for this freedom, charters sign a contract, promising to achieve specific goals for their students. Then, most importantly, they are held accountable for their results.

Charter schools are now in their second decade, and they can be found in 39 states and Washington, DC. This school year, our nation’s 3,000 charter schools will educate nearly 700,000 students. Because they are schools of choice that are highly responsive to the needs of students and communities, charters are extremely appealing to families from all backgrounds. Many families choose a charter school because of its innovative curriculum, others because of its focus on academic achievement, and still others because it offers a promising alternative to an underperforming neighborhood school. For these reasons, charter schools educate a diverse student population. Nationwide, charters serve a higher percentage of African-American, Hispanic, and at-risk students than the traditional public school system.

Charters promise a high quality education for every child, and the results speak for themselves. Studies have shown that charters improve academic achievement and parental satisfaction. Just as telling, the demand for charters continues to grow. Every year, more and more charters schools develop, and in many areas waiting lists are growing longer by the day. It is no wonder that charter schools are widely considered the most exciting and promising education reform in the last generation.

What is a charter school?

Charter schools are nonsectarian public schools of choice that operate with freedom from many of the regulations that apply to traditional public schools. The "charter" establishing each such school is a performance contract detailing the school's mission, program, goals, students served, methods of assessment, and ways to measure success. The length of time for which charters are granted varies, but most are granted for 3-5 years. At the end of the term, the entity granting the charter may renew the school's contract. Charter schools are accountable to their sponsor—usually a state or local school board—to produce positive academic results and adhere to the charter contract. The basic concept of charter schools is that they exercise increased autonomy in return for this accountability. They are accountable for both academic results and fiscal practices to several groups: the sponsor that grants them, the parents who choose them, and the public that funds them.

Definition from the US Department of Education

Additional Charter School Resources

Black Alliance for Education Options—Learn about Charter Schools

Charter School Development Center—Charter School Resources

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute—Charter Schools

US Charter Schools—To Serve and Support Charter Schools