Question: My son is struggling in school, and I’m worried he isn’t getting enough attention from his teacher. I can’t afford to send him to private school. Would he be better off at a charter school?
He might be better off at a charter school. But it’s important to understand that charter schools are independently run public schools.
One charter school can operate very differently from another. They can have different philosophies, goals and, in a word, personalities.
The quality of the education at charters can also vary a lot from school to school. Here’s how to kick the tires and see if a charter might be right for your child.
See if the charter’s goals line up with yours.
Every charter school will have certain goals and philosophies. It’s important to make sure those goals line up with your goals. Some charters emphasize certain areas of study such as technology or foreign language immersion. Others may focus on behavior management or a particular theory of education.
Take, for example, the KIPP schools, a large network of charters serving some 50,000 students. KIPP has strict codes of conduct, including requiring all of its students to attend Saturday classes as well as a summer session. Its schools focus on raising the achievement rates of students who have not been successful before—usually due to a lack of access to quality education.
Parents interested in a KIPP school would have to think about whether those goals and expectations are the same as theirs.
Ask for statistics.
Before you decide on a charter school, contact the government authority that oversees the school. In some states this might be the local school board or the state board of education. The oversight authority can give you statistics on such things as the charter’s proficiency rates on standardized tests and the progress of students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).
Keep in mind that the amount and the thoroughness of the data can vary widely. Find out whether the school has been placed on probationary status and, if so, why. It’s a good idea to ask for statistics on how many of the school’s students have IEPs and how many IEP students got suspended in the last year or two.
You may also want to ask how many of the special education teachers are considered highly qualified. Look at the school’s charter renewal report. Also see if the news media has written any stories about the school.
Get details on how the school handles special education.
Ask the school how it provides services for kids with learning and thinking differences. A good school will have a reliable staff, a welcoming environment and a willingness to work with you on this.
Keep in mind that charter schools are subject to all the laws that traditional public schools are subject to. This is true even if a charter school has strict rules, like a dress code, or is an online school where students and teachers don’t meet face-to-face. It would be illegal for a charter school to reject your son because of his needs. It would also be illegal for the school to ignore or refuse to follow any legal documents such as an IEP.
However, it’s important to note that some charters may not be any better at providing services and supports for your child than his current school is. Some charters might be worse than your child’s current school. Ask detailed questions to help you figure out what seems like the best fit for your child.
Talk to other parents.
Tour the school’s campus. Read what people are saying about the school online. You can also ask the school to connect you with parents who are willing to answer questions from a prospective family. Specify that you’d like to talk to a parent whose child has learning and thinking differences.
Charter schools can be hotbeds of innovation and progressive practices. One of them might be great for your child. But don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. You may be surprised at how creative the school is, but finding the right school is key.