Charter Schools – Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained?

Charter School
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meridian charter school 007 300x200 Charter Schools   Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained?Charter schools are publicly funded institutions which operate independently thus giving the freedom to experiment with educating students in any way which they feel will bring the greatest success. 72 cities in the US enroll about 10% of their children in 5000 charter schools nationwide. 55% of these students are black and Hispanic from a lower socioeconomic status.


The charter school concept, starting in 1992, was meant to find better ways for educating children. Creativity would lead to discovery which would be transferred over to the public school system. Charter schools tend to pay their teachers about 15% above union scale though there is no tenure. These teachers work a long 60 hour week, sometimes causing early burn out. However, teacher proponents say that they enjoy the freedom allotted to develop their classroom as they see fit.


Unfortunately, charter schools have not fared better than public schools based on standardized tests. In fact, the charter movement continues to grapple between ingenuity and exploration while being forced to measure success in conventional ways. A Stanford University study found that less than one-fifth of charter schools nationally offered a better education than comparable local schools, almost half offered an equivalent education and more than a third were “significantly worse.” Additionally, some states have started to equate funding and teacher compensation with standardized test scores. This flies in the face of the original reason for having charter schools at all.


In keeping with the spirit of charter schools, there is a general feeling that these schools should be judged by a different standard. Some have suggested that schools set their own goals based on the needs of their student body. For instance, schools with a high population of ADHD can aim to reduce the use of medication or, perhaps, evaluations can be based on non-academic measures like community involvement and student engagement.


Is any of this practical and realistic? What are your experiences with charter schools? Should they be held to the same standard as public schools? Please share your views.

20 Responses to Charter Schools – Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained?

  1. Jennifer Welch says:

    I am confused by your question. Repeatedly we are told that charter schools ARE, in fact, public schools.

    Charter schools already are freed from the obligation to educate all children, and to comply with many state regulations re the size of the school library, etc. The charter argument was that they would be more effective than traditional schools, who could then learn from their example. I don’t understand the argument that their lack of success with standardized tests means they should not be measured by the same yardstick as traditional schools. How then can neighborhood schools learn from their methods, if they will continue to be measured by those tests? When neighborhood schools don’t perform well on tests, few suggest we should get rid of the test. If fact, the usual suggestion is, we should create more charter schools!

    • Tsivya Fox says:

      HI Jennifer:

      Thanks for your insightful post. Given that generally charter schools are not succeeding better than the standard system of education, should they continue? Have neighborhood schools learned from charter school innovations? How long should the experiment go on or, as you point out, keep expanding?

  2. Merry Juerling says:

    When charter schools operate with public school tax dollars, then absolutely YES charter school must be held accountable the same way as public schools. It is unfortunate that our society imposes unethical standardized testing on children, both in public and charter schools. What is good for the goose…

  3. terrenceallenduncan says:

    As a teacher I have worked in several charter schools and now a big school district. The problem is the state mandated testing that both are required to take. It affects how you teach, what you teach and how you’re evaluated. There are good and bad charters just like there are good and bad public schools. The way testing is used in schools today is one of the main problems.

    • Tsivya Fox says:

      Thanks for sharing. Do you have any thoughts on better ways to judge a schools success besides standardized testing?

  4. Oftentimes, articles of this nature present the discussion of charter and traditional schools as opposite extremes. Sweeping generalizations are made and this destroys the spirit of collaboration that is necessary to create true educational reform. Having much experience in both charter and traditional settings, I have found that the two environments share more similarities than differences and that there are more differences found when analyzing two or more charter schools.

    • Tsivya Fox says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts based on experience. I thought the goal of charter schools was to be different than traditional settings so it’s interesting that you point out the similarities. What would you say are compelling about either?

    • eceresa says:

      I agree; there’s usually not much difference between charters and public schools except for the fact that public schools are focused on educating kids, while at charters the teachers are working toward that goal, but the higher-ups are usually more concerned with profit, whether personal or for the company.

      This should highlight the idea that charters aren’t really necessary. They’re duplicating services, not offering something different, and they’re usually an inferior duplication, at that.

  5. Don Berg says:

    Given that charter schools can only come into existence at the state level and each state that has opted to allow charter schools has different requirements for them then evaluating all charter schools as if they are the same is nonsensical. The question of the practicality and/or realism is unanswerable. Or more accurately the answers you get are going to reflect whatever preconceived notions about charters happen to be in the respondents mind.

    I like the idea that there would be a mechanism that could allow for creative experimentation in education. Experimentation requires the ability to do something different but if the same mechanisms for “accountability” are imposed then you force the “experimenters” into conformity, not creativity. Plus, experimentation does little good if the resulting innovations end up isolated from the broader system. In some places the acrimonious relationships between charter schools and regular schools make it extremely unlikely that any useful exchanges are happening.

    I am a fan of the concept, but I am skeptical that the concept has been implemented well.


    Don Berg

    Founder of Schools of Conscience
    Building the nurturing capacity of K-12 schools.

    Free E-book:

    • Tsivya Fox says:

      Dear Don:

      Your post triggered a thought in my head. Perhaps rather than forcing charter schools to use standardized testing, we should assure that there actually is the exchange of ideas between charters and traditional schools. Then, one of the points for having a charter at all will be fulfilled.

      Thanks for sharing.

      • Don Berg says:

        Taking the empirically established fact that psychological well-being is the true foundation of effective and efficient learning, then I would suggest that all schools should be held to the standard of maintaining the intrinsic motivation and/or engagement of their students. Maintenance of intrinsic motivation and/or engagement requires schools to provide support for the students to meet their primary psychological needs. Those needs, in turn, are the foundation of psychological well-being.

        There are only a few school models that have succeeded in this particular task. An assessment instrument like the Hope Survey or one of the other instruments derived from Self-Determination Theory would be the way to gather the appropriate data.

        Then after some schools have shown that they support the foundation of good learning, then they should be the ones to share their expertise with other schools.

  6. Karen says:

    Isn’t the issue here just about dollars? Those that are used to support public education on any level? I’ve taught in a few charter schools and private schools. A few were exceptional. The staff worked relentlessly to create rigorous and meaningful curricula. We incorporated core concepts naturally. We taught children to THINK, to CONCEPTUALIZE, to PONDER, to ASK questions, to CHALLENGE, and importantly to APPLY what they were learning in authentic ways. Interestingly, and not so surprising either is this: This happens in our other public schools too.

    The biggest differences I see between “charter” and “public” schools are 1) Autonomy- I call this educational schism, a less collegial approach, as this seems to be the direction taken between “public” and “charter” schools currently- to my candid dismay 2) Money 3) Unions. If the dollars that we collect for our schools, typical public or not, come from public entities and we are calling ourselves public educators- then Core Standards evaluation makes sense- at least to those stake holders who dealt out those dollars.

    Side Note: To clarify- states vary in how much money they’ll fork over for charter school support. It’s typical to keep a “reserve” for things like busing, as one example. In other words, one state may provide 79% funding for a charter, another state may provide 90%. This leaves the charter school with the responsibility to make up the different for operational costs. Some opt for non-profit support networks, some chose for- profit. Ultimately- this will affect how the schools operates. It will effect teacher pay and resources ( Resources here should also include, at least in my brain, the school year length- operational hours).

    Ask one of those hard- working tenacious teachers you know how they feel about Core Standards in either “public” or “charter” schools. By the way- they’re both public. You’ll likely get a mouthful of very good reasons to do away with the linear expectation ( and often results) of Core Standards. You’ll also likely get an earful of why public, or FREE, education is so essential. And I’m not talking about the 1800′s when public education was mostly about sustaining a community based upon, well, religious solidarity- community same think ideology. These are modern times folks with wonderfully diverse groups of people. In the early days of public education maybe it made sense to think standard testing was an appropriate way to evaluate what was happening in our schools. But that was before Henry Ford, and the fluid globalization we experience now.

    Core Standards are archaic in this sense. They do not reflect our people, all of our people. I digress: now I’m thinking about how long it takes our governmental bodies to act in ways that DO reflect our nation. Ugh. What I find interesting is that we are trying, yet again, to evaluate entire populations with one set of tests. This is absurd. Yet the argument stands, doesn’t it: Stake Holders. These folks rule, eh? Isn’t it time for our Stake Holders to pay attention to the needs of our peoples too? Ah…this is where charter begin to look pretty darn attractive, eh? That whole autonomy thing.

    Unions are another story too. This is a subject not typically discussed. I haven’t done much research here but will- moving forward and I would LOVE to hear other people thoughts on it. Folks who teach in charter schools are not protected by much other than “At Will” contracts. Most charter schools are not unionized as are public. There is, I believe, a small pool of educators out there that are trying to reform this. Unions may be good and bad. In fact, I believe that Unions are a part of the polarity, or disconnect, that exists between some “charter” and “public” institutions. The folks I know who are truly committed to teaching in exceptional ways don’t typically need protection- if their administration is an objective one.
    The charter school movement, while providing innovation in our classrooms is quite frankly decreasing teacher job security and pay ( refer to resources above and dollar per state for charters). This concerns me. A lot. I’d like to hear more about this. Hint, hint.

    Just my thoughts…for now. Thanks for reading me scribes! Post your rants to me, your ponderings, or anything else. Teach Out!

  7. Lori Abrahams says:

    You lost validity from me early on in this article when you stated ” Charter schools tend to pay their teachers about 15% above union scale though there is no tenure. These teachers work a long 60 hour week, sometimes causing early burn out. However, teacher proponents say that they enjoy the freedom allotted to develop their classroom as they see fit.”

    In no instance have I seen a pay scale where a charter pays better. Lower costs is one of the ways that Charters market themselves to the general public. They pay less, sometimes a lot less than a school in their district where there is collective bargaining. Their benefits package is inferior as well. When you went on to imply that because of this extra compensation, charter school teachers work harder and longer than public school teachers. Long hours and burnout is a fact of life in this career. That is why there is, in the neighborhood of, a 50% rate of teachers leaving the profession within the first 5 years. It’s hard work. Anytime, ANYTIME, you see a teacher on campus 30 minutes after the students leave, they are there for free. Generally speaking (sorry for generalizations) charters tend to hire new teachers with little or not public school teaching experience. Veteran teachers tend to avoid charters, giving them a wide berth. The charter schools around here lose their staff as soon as openings occur in the traditional public school – we pay better, we have better benefits, we can be just as innovative in our classrooms and (I’m pleased that you noted) we are innovative.

    As to your question about testing – Of course there are better ways – they are just not ways that make it convenient for politicians, lobbyists and text book publishers. Keeping a portfolio of work for each student, highlights what they know and expresses their creativity. It gives them ownership of what is being presented about them to the public. It gives them more than one way to show mastery. “Standardized tests are only for standardized students.” A scantron is so easy to score, whereas a portfolio can not be standardized.

    I am a public school teacher and have been for 18 years. I considered charter schools when they first started making an appearance, but the academic freedom that they espouse is a sham. Additionally, it has been my experience, that the administration all too quickly become parodies of themselves – as they are not held accountable to anyone or anything. The district offices don’t have any real control once the school is established. I have observed, in these schools, the old saying that “absolute power corrupts absolutely” play out more often than not

  8. Intriguing post and comment thread! I agree with Don Berg’s recommendation above: “Taking the empirically established fact that psychological well-being is the true foundation of effective and efficient learning, then I would suggest that all schools should be held to the standard of maintaining the intrinsic motivation and/or engagement of their students. Maintenance of intrinsic motivation and/or engagement requires schools to provide support for the students to meet their primary psychological needs. Those needs, in turn, are the foundation of psychological well-being”…

    I’ve created the following collections of articles…

    to raise awareness about issues related to charter school expansion:

    to provide resources for supporting the psychology of learning…

    to raise awareness about high-stakes testing (with examples of alternatives – see…

    and to support safe schools & communities…

    These may seem like a lot of tangentially related topics but they all intersect in incredibly important ways for student learning. Many of the problems we see in schools are exacerbated by attempts to focus narrowly on one factor (academic achievement and/or behavior) without understanding interrelated contexts, relationships, student needs/beliefs, or impacts of learning environments on the full experience of schooling for youth. My hope is that with an increased emphasis on social/emotional learning and greater attention to both physical/mental health in schools, that future policies and evaluations may be more holistic in capturing genuinely effective learning environments for our students.

    • Tsivya Fox says:

      Thank you for taking the time to write and for sharing your insightful articles. Looks like we are creating a mini-charter school of our own with this blog!

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