Charter schools are spreading like wildfire. Since the first charter school opened in 1992, the charter school movement has grown to nearly 5,500 schools operating nationwide in 2010. Their appeal to reformers is simple: in exchange for being held accountable for student performance, these schools sign a charter with the state that frees them from the many regulations of public schools. A 1995 report from the National Education Association (NEA) reflects the debate surrounding these public-private hybrids. "Charter schools can become change agents within the public school system or they can undermine [the commonality of public] education." Here's a look at some of the arguments for and against charter schools.
- In favor: By competing with public schools for students, charter schools improve the overall standard of education. Charter schools are started by entrepreneurial individuals who feel they can offer students an exceptional education. They give parents the right to choose what education is best for their children. Charter schools also give teachers the freedom to be innovative. While charter schools are publicly funded, they are governed by parents, teachers, or other individuals who want to improve education in their community -- not bureaucrats.
- Opposed: Because they draw on the same scarce resources as traditional public schools, charter schools create animosity in the communities where they operate. Charter schools are also elitist. Not only do they cater to the most motivated students, but if a charter student is expelled, he's sent back to a regular public school. This only worsens some public schools' reputations as dumping grounds. Critics charge that charter schools do not solve the real problems facing public education, but only provide an escape for the fortunate few. They argue that the money used for charter schools should be spent on fixing the schools we already have.