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What’s the Difference Between Charter and Public Schools?

When you are considering the best choice for education, you may be wondering about the differences between public and charter schools. The simple answer is that charter schools can vary quite a bit more than public schools in terms of educational style, focus, and school type. This is because charter schools, by law, are afforded more flexibility and independence than public schools. 

That being said, each school, whether public or charter, has characteristics which set it apart as entirely unique from any other individual school. Charter schools are fundamentally different from public schools in the rules, guidelines, and regulations established at the state level. As a result, charter schools are incredibly diverse, providing a range of innovative education opportunities for students.

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What’s The Main Difference Between Charter and Public Schools?

What Are Charter Schools?

Let’s start with the basics to explore the main differences between public and charter schools. Most state laws allow a charter school option where the charter 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 the term charter school. Since charter schools operate outside of the typical public school structure, they have a much greater range of diversity of styles. This was the goal with charter schools all along: to offer students alternatives to more standardized, uniformly structured public schools–but for free. In a sense, charter schools level the playing field so that students who cannot afford private schools have another option in addition to traditional public schools.

What are Traditional Public Schools?

As most folks generally understand, public schools are learning institutions that are funded by local, state, and federal governments. Traditional public schools offer general education opportunities to children in kindergarten through grade 12, and extracurricular activities are also part of many public school programs. Charter schools are quite similar to this, except that they have additional freedom to offer education using alternative modes of delivery and curricular focus. 

Charter schools are different when it comes to their educational style and focus. A Big difference from public schools is more flexibility and independence.

Since charter schools are created based on their own mandate of mission, management, and measures of success, they are incredibly diverse–much more so than public schools. 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: Charter schools with rigorous academic and behavioral standards, often called “No Excuses” schools, are popular in many larger city settings often serving lower socioeconomic status students. No excuses schools encompass roughly 15% of all charter schools. Even within this category, such schools have a wide range of different looks and approaches. 
  • Online: 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.
  • Hybrid: These charter 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 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. 

So what’s the Main Differences Between Public and Charter?

Charter schools are public schools of choice, meaning that families choose them for their children, or students choose them for themselves. They operate with freedom from some of the regulations that are imposed upon traditional district schools. Charter schools are accountable for academic results and for upholding the promises made in their charters. They must demonstrate performance in the areas of academic achievement, financial management, and organizational stability. If a charter school does not meet performance goals, it may be closed.

How Charter and Public Schools are Alike

Charter schools and traditional public schools are both free. Each school type cannot discriminate against students they admit to their schools and they operate by means of government state funding.

How Charter and Public Schools are Different 

Charter schools receive state funding on a fixed, per-pupil basis, while traditional public schools receive more funding more heavily in the form of local taxpayer dollars. In terms of accountability, traditional public schools must follow the standards set by the state board of education, whereas charter schools are responsible to the state board of education as well as their charter authorizer. This is the mandate created by the founding group (such as a for-profit organization, a group of teachers, parents, the local school district, or government entities). A charter school can be shut down if it does not meet the standards outlined in its charter.

The Bottom Line

Charter schools were created to fulfill a need in the community. Where traditional public schools fell short charter schools have risen to meet the needs of students looking for alternatives. Since charter schools set their own goals and standards (which are enforced by the government according to the approved charter of each such school), they may be a very good option for students. 

However, each student and family should evaluate the unique opportunities available in charter and traditional public schools in their area. Finding a school that is the right match for the student is the most important factor. Since charter schools offer more variety, these are excellent, free alternatives to the traditional public school format for many students

Experience the Difference with R.O.S.E Academies

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Come “Experience the Difference” at a R.O.S.E.® Academy. Education is our focus, and success is our hallmark. Feel free to contact us for any information. One of our friendly staff members will be more than happy to help you go over the difference between charter and public schools, to help you choose the right fit for you. To understand the difference between charter and private schools check out our blog breaking that down here as well.