The Meaning and Organization of the Charter School

This paper explores charter schools – the new trend in the United States educational system. The purpose of the paper is to define the meaning of the term and find out its nature. In order to examine the issue, a historical overview is an important part of the research, which demonstrates the development of the concept. The paper aims to reveal the differences and similarities with old traditional schools. The research also discusses three types of management organization of charter schools. Moreover, the purpose of the research is to elucidate the advantages and drawbacks of charter schools. To fulfill this task, the author examines one of the charter schools located in New York City. Furthermore, one of the aspects of the paper exposes the demographic background of most charter schools and defines the role charter school may play in the educational system of the United States. The author proposes a deep analysis of the charter school phenomena.

An education issue is of paramount importance for modern American society. The rapidly developing world requires critical and creative thinking from an individual. The growing trend of alternative education was an answer to the high requirements of the modern world. Among the vast variety of nontraditional educational institutions, the most popular are charter schools. This developing alternative educational model is the complex phenomena that combine both public and private schools features able to satisfy growing population demands.

The new century has brought a shift from old, traditional understanding to the new alternative methods of efficient public education has occurred (Finn et al., 2000, p.61). The new society put an emphasis on students’ results, higher educational standards, more freedoms for schools, invention of new school models, and growing competition on the school market, which provides broad choice for citizens (Finn et al., 2000, p. 61). The old forms of schools seem not to satisfy the high requirements of the modern world. Bureaucracy penetrates educational systems down to the classroom (Halle, 2003, p.34). It caused a growing number of students, who are disappointed with the system and not school enrolled. Low-quality education failed to provide the necessary knowledge needed to build a successful career. In order to fulfill the country’s needs, new alternative conceptions of public educations were proposed and charter school was one of them.


Charter schools were designed to improve the nation’s educational system. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools defines these schools as “unique public schools that have the freedom to be more innovative while being held accountable for improving students achievement” (“What is a public”, n.d). Thus, charter schools are independent educational entities accountable to the government or local authorities. The purpose of every charter school is to improve students’ achievement. All charter schools throughout the country share three basic values: ingenuity, responsibility, and accountability (Finn et al., 2000, p. 13). Nowadays charter schools serve 2.9 million students nationwide that constitutes 6 percent of all school-enrolled pupils (“Facts about”, 2016). Charter school is one of the liveliest reforms in US education.

The Creation and Functioning of Charter Schools

The procedure of establishment of charter schools is an important component for understanding the charter school operation. This type of alternative school got its name after the word “charter”, a formal legal document. The “charter” means a contract between an operator, an institution or individual who establishes and runs a school, and a sponsor, the public authority, which authorizes and later monitors such schools (Finn et al., 2000, p. 15). An operator could be any person, institution, or organization willing to launch its own school. Sponsors may also vary, but usually, they are local or state school boards, sometimes-county school boards or public universities. If the operator applies for the charter, it must indicate why the charter school is needed, how it is going to function, and expected students’ results.

The contract is concluded for five years. However, sometimes it could be made for as short as one year, or as long as fifteen years (Finn et al., 2000, p. 16). In a case of successful performance of the particular charter school, the contract will be renewed. If the school fails to adhere to the charter and demonstrate declared results, it will be closed. According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, approximately 200 charter schools opened in 2011-2012 were closed until the beginning of the next educational year (“Separating fact”, 2014). If it happens that a school violates the federal of state law, it will be closed even earlier. Charter schools must strictly adhere to the initial contract in order to continue its activity.

The History of the Charter School Idea

The Origin and Development of the Concept

The concept of the charter school was developed in the late 20th century. Ray Budde first used the term in 1988 in his article Education by Charter (Murphy, & Shiffman, 2002, p. 23). He suggested an idea of improving instructions and changing the organization of schools embodied in a new type of educational institutions. Instructional programs should have been established on the basis of written agreement between school districts and teachers. However, Budde proposed the establishment of “chartering academic departments or programs”, rather than schools (Murphy, & Shiffman, 2002, p. 24). The central role was assigned to teachers. Parents and members of a community formed an advisory body with little decision-making authority.

The idea was publicly voiced by Albert Shanker, the President of the American Federation of Teachers, in a speech to the National Press Club in 1988 (Murphy, & Shiffman, 2002, p. 24). He believed that charter schools could change the system of US education. Undoubtedly, both Budde and Shanker made a considerable impact on the popularization of charter schools in American society.

American charter school model was influenced by two other alternative concepts. The first one was British grant-maintained schools and the other – school-restructuring efforts in Philadelphia. According to the 1988 Education Reform Act in Great Britain, schools got an opportunity to abandon local control and be funded by national government grants (Murphy, & Shiffman, 2002, p. 26). On the other hand, Philadelphia created the concept of the synchronous functioning of heterogeneous students’ groups and the core teacher during the whole high school period. The teacher had freedom to compose curricular and assessment evaluation tests. Thus, the charter school idea is a complex concept rooted in various ideas and practices.

Charter School Legislation

The practical realization of the idea started when the first charter school legislation was adopted. Minnesota was the first state to pass the bill in 1991 (Finn et al., 2000, p. 18). The Minnesotan Ted Kolderie combined all the concepts of charter school together and proposed a draft legislation, which contained a few important features. Firstly, many different groups were allowed to organize charter schools. He offered a two-level accountability system, both by the sponsor institution and by the parent’s choice. The school designed to be open for every kid regardless of any discrimination. The information about such schools must be open and widespread. Charter schools also gained an opportunity to determine the organizational structure and instructions by themselves (Murphy, & Shiffman, 2002, p. 25). In 1993, the amendment nullified the need for school boards permissions; later, in 1997 the law lifted restrictions on the number of charter schools in the state (Murphy, & Shiffman, 2002, p. 28).
The successful experience of Minnesota was soon expanded to other American states. According to Murphy & Shiffman (2002), as of the year 2000, 14 states did not have charter school laws (p. 30). Nowadays, 43 states and the District of Columbia have passed the legislation on charter schools. The last state to adopt it in 2012 was Washington (“The public charter”, n.d.). Thus, only seven states do not have a law that guarantees the establishment of the charter school model.

The First Charter School

The City Academy Charter School was opened in September 1992 in St. Paul, Minnesota. The operators of the school were a businesswoman and a teacher. The goal of the school was to serve the non-school youth. During the first year, 35 students of the law-income, racially diverse area attended the school (Murphy, & Shiffman, 2002, p. 28). The state provided two thirds of the school’s budget, and the rest was gained through various grants. Teachers focused on the development of knowledge in traditional subjects and giving attention to every pupil. After three years, the City Academy had become the first charter school, which renewed its contract (Murphy, & Shiffman, 2002, p. 29). The school has fulfilled its initial objectives and become an example to follow for hundreds of schools in the next few decades.

The Correlation of Charter Schools with Traditional Schools


Charter schools combine both public and private schools’ features though remain an exclusive educational cluster. Along with public schools, charter schools are open to all students. This school type is nonsectarian and does not discriminate on race or academic ability. Both public and charter schools are funded by the federal, state and local tax dollars. Therefore, no tuition fees can be charged. Just like public schools, charter schools are accountable for its results to federal or meeting state academic standards (Finn et al., 2000, p. 15). Moreover, all charter schools must take the same tests as students in traditional public schools.

Charter schools resemble two characteristics of private schools. Firstly, they are independent and self-governing institutions, which mean that they control by themselves curriculum, schedule, calendar, and internal organization, instruction, staffing, and budgeting. Secondly, charter schools are also schools of choice. None of the pupils can attend such schools against his or her will. Parents decide to send or not their kids to charter schools (Finn et al., 2000, p. 15). In conclusion, charter school unites the best features of traditional educational entities.


Charter schools also differ significantly from traditional public schools. A charter school can be established by almost everyone. Contrary to public schools, charter schools are autonomous in their operations and exempt from many state and local level regulations. Charter schools can hire teachers by its choice, and hold them accountable for improving student achievement. In addition, they are attended by students whose parents choose this type of school. Unlike many traditional schools, charter ones can be closed in case of not producing satisfactory results (Finn et al., 2000, p. 15). Compared to other types of schools, charter schools are accountable on three levels. They are responsible to its clients and community members, sponsors, and state (Finn et al., 2000, p. 142). Thus, charter schools’ initial concept varies from those of public schools.

Types of Charter Schools

Charter school is a collective term. One should not forget that they operate in different states under various legislations. Still, it is possible to outline schools by management type. They may be independent entities or a part of charter networks operators (CNO). Currently, CNO is of two kinds: charter schools managed by charter management organizations (CMO), and charter schools managed by educational management organizations (EMO) (“CMO and EMO”, 2011). Independent charter schools are single entities, which do not belong to any charter schools network. CMOs are non-profit charter management organizations that operate more than one school. On the contrary, EMOs are for-profit charter management organizations, which operate more than one school (“A closer look”, 2016). The number of independent charter schools overwhelms CNO’s schools. Moreover, despite the general critic that charter schools are designed to make a profit, only 15% of schools are for-profit. The charter schools conception remains on its early development stage, and in the future, one may see a more branched structure of charter schools.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Charter Schools

The efficiency of charter schools is a hot-button topic nowadays. This type of school has significant benefits and some drawbacks. In 1997, the Hudson Institute conducted a serious survey on charter schools satisfaction level. Pupils, who studied at charter schools, mentioned such advantages as good teachers, the teaching of the material until they learn it, and the school ability to support them not to fall behind. On the contrary, students were unsatisfied with the poor sports program and lack of other activities, poor food, and too much homework (Finn et al., 2000, p. 85). Charter schools are also popular among student’s parents. Two third of the adult respondents say the charter school is better than its child’s previous one with respect to class and school size, curriculum, attention from teachers and quality of instructions (Finn et al., 2000, p. 85). From the survey, it is obvious that charter schools’ main benefits concern educational issues. However, most disadvantages relate to non-academic issues.

The recent journalist reporting on Success Academy charter school in New York City confirms the results of the survey. Taylor (2015) has found out that charter schools are focused on the educational performance of students. For example, students study on Saturdays and usually devote much time to subjects such as English, math, and science. Students do not learn foreign languages up to eighth grade. Pupils get prizes for outstanding results and it makes them motivated. If a student has bad results, he or she stays after the classes in the so-called “effort academy” to do additional exercises. Charter schools are rich in supplies needed for studying. School places high demands not only for students but also for teachers. Their teaching methods are constantly monitored in order to identify the most efficient practice. Journalists clear up that the high teachers’ turnout and strict discipline are the main drawbacks of charter schools. Students are punished for almost every mistake, and psychological pressure can cause pupil’s wetting even during the classes (Taylor, 2015). Thus, in the modern period charter schools’ advantage are high educational results based on good teachers’ tuition.

According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, starting in 2010, 16 studies have been conducted on the performance of charter schools (“Separating fact”, 2014). Fifteen of them confirm that charter schools pupils perform better than their peers from traditional public schools (“Separating fact” 2014). Moreover, charter schools enroll more students of color and from low-income families than traditional schools (“Separating fact”, 2014). Urban peripheries of heterogeneous metropolises suffer from low student achievements, overcrowding, poorly speaking immigrant children and crumbling buildings (Halle, 2003, p. 35). The traditional public school system in such cities as New York and Los Angeles failed to cope with urban jungle challenges. Charter school with their aim to improve the results of every student, including the undesirable ones, is a perfect solution for megacities. Thus, charter schools may find its place in the US educational system serving the most deprived population stratum.

The charter school model is a new developing alternative educational institution that attracts a wide variety of people and guarantees good performance results. Charter schools have proved to be strong entities able to improve every student’s results. An invention of the 20th century, charter school does an excellent job and outperforms traditional educational institutions. This type of school is a unique entity, which combines characteristics of public and private educational institutions. Charter school is designed to serve the diverse US population. The institution is not an ideal and has some disadvantages, which are highly criticized by the public. Nonetheless, the charter school is a successful part of the US educational reform.

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