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Which is better? Charter Schools vs Public Schools

When it comes to choosing between a public or a charter school there are many different factors to consider. That being said, which is better will depend on the needs and goals of the student. It may be difficult to speak in broad strokes about charter schools vs public because, like the students they serve, each individual school is unique. Still, fundamental differences in the rules, guidelines, and regulations for charter schools vs public schools means each model offers a different set of opportunities for students.

This is what a charter school is

Charter schools are public schools that function by their own terms so to speak. Most state laws allow a charter school option where the school creates a contract with the state declaring what their school’s mission, goals, management, and modes for measuring success will be. This contract is the “charter” in charter schools! Because they operate outside of the typical public school structure, they have a much greater range of diversity of styles.

How About Popularity?

Charter schools are a relatively new education option first started in Minnesota in 1991. Since then, they have grown and they currently meet educational needs of over 7% of all students. That’s more than 3 million students! Nonetheless, public schools are still the most popular option serving about 90% of all students across the U.S.

Who Can Attend Charter Schools?

Public schools are required to be available to serve all students across the country. Typically, students are assigned to their local public schools based on their address and proximity to the school. However, they are open enrollment meaning any student can attend even if they live further away. Some of them use lottery systems to select students, but, in general, like public education, charters cannot turn down students. That being said, many charter schools do not include resources to meet some special needs students, whereas public schools are required to do so. If you or your child has special needs requirements make sure to inquire about what resources are available, particularly when thinking about a school option.

Incredible Range of Differences in Charter Schools

Because charter schools are created based on their own mandate of the mission, management, and measures of success, they are incredibly diverse–much more so than public education. With the parameters opened wide, education innovators have developed many different types of schools under the charter label. Here are some of the broader categories of charter school types:

No Excuses:

  • They with rigorous academic and behavioral standards often called “No Excuses” schools, are popular in many larger city settings often serving lower socioeconomic status students. larger city settings often serving lower socioeconomic status students. No excuses schools encompass roughly 15% of all charter schools, though they might use the term for themselves. Even within this category, such schools have a wide range of different looks and approaches.


  • Serving approximately 8% of all charter students, virtual schools have taken schooling into the online classroom. The online-only option, while somewhat popular, has been harshly criticized for leaving students with much diminished academic learning in reading and math. Nonetheless, students who are motivated, independent, and organized can enjoy increased flexibility and success with such an option.


  • The schools combine face-to-face learning with an online format. Some hybrid schools have teachers onsite to assist students as they complete requirements in computer centers at the school, and others allow additional focus for at-home work time. The schools with more face-to-face time, on-site hour requirements, and a better teacher to student ratios far outperform those with a more “work-from-home” emphasis.

Expeditionary Learning:

  • Also referred to as “EL,” Expeditionary Learning schools focus on experiential learning through the completion of research projects. Within this overall model, students gain critical thinking, communication, and craftsmanship skills.

Charter schools vs Public schools: Pros & Cons



Smaller Class SizeMay not have transportation options
Smaller School SizeMay require more fundraising
More of a Family EnvironmentLess student diversity
Different Styles of TeachingFewer Sports & Extracurriculars
Qualified TeachersLess stable teacher contracts
Fewer Discipline ProblemsLess support for special needs
More Specialized ApproachSometimes lottery system to enroll
Increased Ability To Try New ThingsNot as standardized

What Do Parents Think?

In national surveys asking parents to rate various categories of both types of satisfaction, education systems like R.O.S.E outpaced the public in several categories. When you look at charter schools vs public schools, both were rated about the same for the quality of teachers, safety, and facilities. Charters, however, were rated better in discipline, achievement, and character instruction. But remember, the quality and standards of the individual school count! they also vary greatly across every measure, so it is important to assess each school individually to find a good match.

The Bottom Line

They were created to fulfill a need in the community. In the charter schools vs public argument, charters have risen to meet the needs of students looking for an alternative. Since they set their own goals and standards (which are enforced by the government according to the approved charter of each such school), they may be very good options for the student, or not so good.

More Options

The goodness of fit for each student is the most important factor. Does the student prefer a highly structured, strict, and academically-rigorous environment? Perhaps, a more flexible schedule with an individual learning pace is the best option. Or, maybe the student would be best served in a public school with special needs resources more widely available. Whatever the case, charter schools have opened the box for more options and more possibilities for students across the board. Consider the needs and goals of individual students to match with the best school for you. For more information, you can reach Rose Academies at 520-797-4884 today.