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Update: Aug 13, 2002
Charter Schools | Research | NEA Resources | Other Resources

Charter Schools

The National Education Association supports public charter schools that have the same standards of accountability and access as other public schools. Publicly funded schools must be accountable to the general public-as well as parents-for budgets, health and safety standards, academic standards and access for students.

NEA policy embraces high standards, accountability and strong local control for charter schools. It also offers guidance in the form of various criteria that can significantly improve the chances for success of these programs, which after 10 years are still in the experimental stage. Among other things, NEA firmly believes that all affected public education employees must be directly involved in the design, implementation and governance of these and other educational programs.

Failures spur review of charter school laws

Charter schools are part of the landscape of public education. According to the Education Commission of the States, as of August 2001 there were more than 2,300 public charter schools serving more than 500,000 students nationwide. The Commission reported that 37 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have laws providing funding and permitting charter schools to operate. However, many of those statutes are being revisited and revised in light of a number of charter school failures, some with disastrous consequences for students.

NEA's position on charter schools is necessarily general. State laws and regulations vary widely, and NEA state affiliates have positions that are appropriate to the situation in their states. For example, accountability for meeting high academic standards is an essential component of successful charter schools. But not all state charter laws have strong accountability requirements. In addition, not all state laws require charter schools to develop programs conforming with state or local academic standards, and many charter laws do not require charters to participate in the state accountability system.

Accountability proves to be elusive

According to the U.S. Department of Education: "Charter schools are public schools that come into existence through a contract with either a state agency or a local school board. The charter-or contract-establishes the framework within which the school operates and provides public support for the school for a specified period of time. The school's charter gives the school autonomy over its operation and frees the school from regulations that other public schools must follow. In exchange for the flexibility afforded by the charter, the schools are held accountable for achieving the goals set out in the charter including improving student performance."

But holding charter schools accountable to parents and taxpayers is proving to be troublesome. Education Week reported on March 20, 2002, "Originally designed to inspire innovation and free schools from bureaucracy, in return for showing results, charter schools often remain mired in debate over what they should look like and how they should be regulated and financed."

Problems plague some charter schools

The lack of adequate accountability provisions in some state laws, and in some cases ineffective monitoring, have led to significant problems and abuses by some charter school operators.

In the first half of 2002, the California State Board of Education reduced funding to 46 charter schools after an audit found the schools failed to follow state spending guidelines. State education officials and legislators in Indiana, Massachusetts and elsewhere were exploring how to better monitor charter school funding and spending.

In 2001, the Texas legislature instituted a limit on the number of charter schools allowed to operate in the state. The move came after 10 Texas charter schools closed and 600 displaced charter school students were forced to repeat a grade because of inadequate record keeping. Additionally, test scores for the Texas charter schools were lower than those in public schools.

In late March 2002, the Arizona Board of Education took unprecedented action to start the process leading to revocation of the Northwest Charter Academy's contract with the state. In an investigation of the school in February, state officials found that the school, operated as a private Christian school before getting its public charter, was openly promoting religion. (The Arizona Republic, March 26, 2002)

The District of Columbia Board of Education revoked the charters of three of their 17 charter schools in August 2001 because of chronic problems with teaching, discipline, attendance, and administrative oversight. Suggested probationary measures were rejected because the board believed there was no chance of resolving the problems and that the schools were doomed for failure. (The Washington Post, August 8, 2001)

In 1999-2000 80% of children in Texas public schools passed the Texas academic achievement tests, and only 37% of charter school students passed the same test. (The Dallas Morning News, May 19, 2001)

New concerns are being raised by the recent proliferation in California, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and elsewhere of non classroom-based charter schools, or "home-study schools." These include online schools and distance-learning schools-an abuse of the charter school concept that NEA adamantly opposes.


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