Dispelling Charter School Myths

 

In February, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced that a potential ballot measure, the Elimination of Charter Schools Initiative was cleared to collect petition signatures for possible inclusion on the November 2016 ballot. It’s not yet clear if proponents of the measure have the backing or resources to qualify or launch a campaign for passage. But I’m concerned about this trend and want to take this opportunity to clarify what charter schools are — and what they are not — to dispel some common myths.

Families vary widely in their educational needs. The range of school choices available to Californians — Alamedans in particular — is rare and wonderful. Parents here can choose from district magnet schools like Maya Lin and Junior Jets, or traditional neighborhood schools like Ruby Bridges Elementary School and Wood Middle School. Or they can choose a public charter, like the Academy of Alameda or the Nea and Alameda Community Learning Centers (ACLC). 

This range of choices offers families varying levels of structure, unique educational models and different approaches. Depending on personal needs and preferences, all are excellent options and collectively serve Alameda families very effectively. 

But this ballot measure seeks to deny parents this rich array of choices, based on common myths and misconceptions circulating about charter schools. Here are five of the most common, along with doses of reality.

Myth 1: Charter schools charge tuition. As public schools, charters are free to anyone who wants to attend. Charter schools are supervised by local school districts and independently governed by their own boards of directors.

Myth 2: Charter schools “hand pick” the best and brightest students. As free public schools, charters are prohibited from using selective admissions based on academic performance or ability. Like district schools, charters must educate all types of students. When applications outpace available seats, charters must conduct random lotteries, announced in advance and open to the public.

Myth 3: Charter schools take funds away from public schools. Charter schools are public schools! When parents choose a charter over a district school, there is no loss of funding to public schools. Just like district schools, public charters are funded based on the number of students enrolled. In California, funding follows the student, so education dollars go to whichever public school a learner attends. 

Myth 4: Parents don’t want/need charter schools. Over the past five years, statewide data shows the California public has never been more supportive of charter schools, based on increasing parent demand and the growth in charter enrollment. Support continues to increase, especially for historically underserved students.

Myth 5: There’s little difference between district and charter schools. Though they follow the same state educational standards, charter schools are different. Charters are responsive, with the agility to innovate and self-correct. Charter boards and committees offer parents, educators and learners a strong voice in school governance. 

Smaller school and class size often means more individual attention to accommodate needs. Charters are established based on a specific mission, which guides decisions and fosters a common vision. With district oversight and charter renewals every five years, and regular WASC accreditation reviews, Alameda charters are held to high standards of accountability. 

Charters are vital to community choice and it would be an incalculable loss to educational excellence if they were eliminated. 

 

Patti Wilczek is the Executive Director of Community Learning Center Schools, the charter management organization for public charter schools, Nea and ACLC.