NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Charter Schools Improving Education

March 11, 1996

Disgusted with unresponsive, tradition-bound education bureaucracies and uninspired student performance, parents and some educators are turning to charter schools.

  • Charter schools are authorized under short-term contracts with local or state education agencies and publicly funded at the same rates as other schools.
  • They can be organized by teachers, groups of parents, business or social organizations, or universities.
  • Unless they achieve academic goals specified in the contracts, their charters can be withdrawn -- making them accountable and giving those involved an incentive to succeed.

The first charter school opened five years ago in Minnesota, but the concept spread quickly to 250 schools in 20 states this school year. Sixteen more states are interested.

According to some educational experts, evidence shows they are as innovative as their founders envisioned.

  • At Vaughn Street School in East Los Angeles -- California's first charter school -- student attendance is the best in the district, test scores are improving, and parents are taking a more active interest in their children's education.
  • Freed from the local school district's restrictions, Vaughn cut class sizes, extended the school year and saved enough money to build and equip a computer center.
  • Livingston Academy in Lowell, Michigan, offers a school-to-work program for 50 students in 11th and 12th grades.
  • The City on a Hill Charter School in Boston stresses public service and civic responsibility for ninth and 10th graders.

Contrary to some critics' views, charter schools don't skim off the best students -- more than half teach dropouts and minority enrollment is proportionally higher than in public schools at large.

Charter schools are only one of a number of educational alternatives being implemented to revitalize American education. Milwaukee and Cleveland are experimenting with the voucher system, under which parents are provided with vouchers to pay for educating their children at private, competitive schools.

Source: Editorial, "Charter Schools Reach Kids, Reform the System," USA Today, Monday, March 11, 1996.


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