One of the most important — and difficult — decisions a parent has to make is what school their children should attend. Is private school worth the expense? Can they get a good education from the overworked, underpaid teachers at an overcrowded public school? Do you have the necessary initiative and self-discipline to homeschool your child?
There is another option, and it might be the perfect one for your family: Charter schools. Dr. Freda Deskin, the founder, administrator, and CEO of the 20-year-old, ASTEC Charter Schools in Oklahoma City, has all the answers to your questions.
Q: First Things First: What Is a Charter School?
A: Charter schools are public schools that are independently operated by an organization, university, or government agency. Unlike traditional public schools, they have the autonomy to set their own educational objectives, and their standards often exceed those of school districts or even states.
Q: How Many Charter Schools Are There?
A: The United States is home to 7,000 charter schools. They are frequently located in inner-city areas, but suburban and rural charter schools do exist, says Freda Deskin.
Q: Do Families Have to Pay Tuition?
A: No, charter schools are free for students and their families. Most of them are run as non-profit organizations. They receive public funding based on their enrollment numbers, although in many cases they get less funding than traditional public schools.
Q: What Sets Them Apart from Other Schools?
A: Since charter schools are free from the usual constraints and requirements of public school curricula and criteria, many of them have a particular specialty, goal, or demographic. For example, some charter schools are aligned with Montessori principles; others focus on college preparation. There are charter schools that are geared toward gifted and talented students, while some, like ASTEC Charter School, have a strong STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) component. According to Freda Deskin, bilingual instruction is another fairly common characteristic of charters.
Q: Are There Prerequisites or Entrance Exams?
A: No, charter schools are open to all students, and there are no admission requirements. They are considered “schools of choice,” explains Freda Deskin. This means that a student will not be enrolled in a charter school based on where they live, which is usually the organizing principle behind traditional public schools. Instead, the student and their family must opt in and apply to a charter school. If there are more applicants than there is capacity, a random lottery will decide which students get in.
Q: How Can I Find a Charter School That Will Suit My Child?
A: Dr. Freda Deskin advises that you start by searching on the Center for Education Reform’s website. You can also get in touch with your State Department of education to find out about options in your particular area.