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Commentary: Tackling Misconceptions About Charter Schools

Commentary by Walter Meyers III originally published by and

Since their humble beginnings in 1992, with City Academy in St. Paul, Minnesota, charter schools have expanded to forty-four other states as well as the District of Columbia, and they now enroll well over 3.4 million students – roughly eight percent of all students nationwide. But while charter schools have been around for thirty years, many Americans remain unfamiliar with or confused about the basic concept.

What many don’t understand is that charter schools are public schools – funded by federal and state funds – but privately run. Charters serve as an alternative to public schools that often fail students, as is the case in virtually every major urban area with predominantly minority children. In many cases, charters deliver significantly better educational outcomes than public schools in terms of standardized test scores and graduation rates.

The advantage of charter schools is that they are exempt from state and local regulations to a substantial degree, giving them the flexibility and autonomy to innovate and meet the needs of students. In exchange for this freedom, these schools are held publicly accountable to their charter – generally a legislative contract with their state or district. Charter schools are reviewed periodically by their granting entity; if the conditions of the charter aren’t met, their authorization can be revoked.

A common misconception about charter schools is that they siphon off the best students from public schools and leave the remaining students to suffer in underperforming schools. This isn’t the case, however: charter school admission is based on an open lottery system, which provides equal access to all students until capacity limits are reached. It’s true that parents who are more involved in their children’s education will be more likely to pursue enrollment in a charter school, but their chances for success are the same as all other parents who apply.

Some charters schools choose to serve more specifically the needs of their communities. Charter schools can prioritize admissions to students who live in the district they serve, for example. Other charters indicate specific missions. The HOLLA School in the Rockwood Community of Portland, Oregon, for example, states that its mission is to serve “Black, Brown and Indigenous youth.”

Another common misconception about charter schools is that they drain money from traditional public schools. In most states, adjustments are made to compensate districts for enrollment losses to charter schools. And besides, the mission of charter schools has always been to provide an alternative within the public school system itself – often a sorely needed alternative, considering the one-size-fits-all approach typical of traditional public school systems.

Charter schools are no panacea. Not all are equally successful with respect to educational outcomes, and not all are right for all students. As with any schooling decision, parents must determine what is best for their children.

Rather than a competitor to traditional public schools, charters are more of a model for how public school systems could be more responsive to student needs, while also producing better outcomes. Since they can lose their authorization if they don’t effectively serve their students, charters are accountable in ways that traditional public schools, even failing ones, are not.

Many parents would love to have a charter school alternative to their under-performing local public school, but in some states limit parental options. In California, teacher unions make huge campaign contributions to legislators who cripple charter schools by imposing onerous regulations and giving them considerably less funding than traditional public schools.

In California – where teachers get tenure after two years, pay increases are automatic regardless of performance, and full pension benefits start at age 62 – little incentive exists to innovate. Charter schools, by contrast, attract teachers who favor merit-pay increases based on student success in the classroom, and retirement plans that resemble those of other private entities.

The truth is, charter schools do more with less, outperforming their traditional public school counterparts. If traditional public schools want to retain students, instead of complaining they should learn from successful charter schools and seek to raise the quality of education they provide so that parents won’t need to seek alternatives. Until that happens, concerned parents will continue to support charter schools.

By Walter Meyers III – This article was originally published by RealClearEducation and made available via RealClearWire.

Deneen Borelli

Deneen Borelli is the author of Blacklash: How Obama and the Left are Driving Americans to the Government Plantation. Deneen is a contributor with Newsmax Broadcasting. She is a former Fox News contributor and has appeared regularly on “Hannity,” “Fox & Friends,” “Your World with Neil Cavuto,” and “America’s Newsroom.” She has also appeared on Fox Business Network programs “Making Money with Charles Payne,” “The Evening Edit with Liz MacDonald,” and “Cavuto: Coast to Coast.” Previously, Deneen appeared on MSNBC, CNN, the BBC and C-SPAN. In addition to television, Deneen co-hosted radio programs on the SiriusXM Patriot channel with her husband Tom. Recently, Deneen co-hosted the Reigniting Liberty podcast with Tom. Deneen is a frequent speaker at political events, including the FreedomWorks 9.12.2009 March on D.C. which drew a crowd estimated at over 800,000 people. Deneen is also an Ambassador with, a social media platform that promotes free speech, and with the America First Policy Institute (AFPI) which advances policies that put Americans first. Deneen testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources in May 2011 and before the Ohio House Public Utilities Committee in December 2011. Previously, Deneen was a host, Outreach Director with overseeing its outreach program, a Project 21 Senior Fellow, and Manager of Media Relations with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Prior to joining CORE, Deneen worked at Philip Morris USA for 20 years. During her corporate career at Philip Morris she worked in various positions, her last as Project Management Coordinator in the Information Management department where she was responsible for the department’s mandated quality processes, communications, sales information and database management. Deneen began her Philip Morris career as a secretary and advanced to positions of increasing responsibilities. Deneen worked full-time and attended classes at night for 11 years to earn her B.A. in Managerial Marketing from Pace University, New York City. Deneen served on the Board of Trustees with The Opportunity Charter School in Harlem, New York. She appeared in educational videos for children, worked as a runway fashion model, and auditioned for television commercials. Her interests include ancient history, pistol target shooting, photography, and volunteering at her church. Deneen currently resides in Connecticut with her husband Tom.

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