Charter schools have divided public opinion, often quite sharply. There are some who completely endorse the concept of charter schools and believe that the idea has been a great success. There are some who don’t endorse the idea and criticize it for the usurpation of public funds. The fact of the matter is that charter schools cannot be assessed by the virtue of their concept. As with any educational system, whether it is public or private or charter, there are many factors that determine the eventual academic outcome. The funding or the overall modus operandi of an education system doesn’t determine if the students would be taken care of, if they would excel at their chosen disciplines and if a particular brand would do better than others. Parents, teachers, environment and the students, all play an integral role in the success or failure of an education system.
Charter schools have had mixed impacts. They have been successful in some cases and they have failed in some cases. There are obviously some charter school pros and cons. It is by the virtue of those advantages and disadvantages that one must judge the success or failure of charter schools. Moreover, it is necessary not to generalize the reality since it will vary from one charter school to another.
Here are the objective charter schools pros and cons.
1. Charter schools offer families an additional option. Earlier, parents had to choose either a public or a private school. Depending on where one lives, a public school may not have a desirable environment for a child, a private school may be too expensive, the choice of schools may not be worthwhile and in any case it is good to have an extra option. Charter schools provide that luxury of choice which is always desirable and also necessary.
2. Charter schools make the education system and the institutions more competitive. With more players or institutions in an area, each would want to outdo the others so it can get the best students or at least be in the good books of the families in the area. When there is no competition, an education institution can become complacent and that can lead to substandard education and poor environment within the campus. Charter schools have certainly woken up some traditional schools from their perennial slumber.
3. Education systems need to evolve. What used to be the best way of imparting education two decades back may not be the most effective way today. Innovation is necessary in everything, including education, but changes or reinvention does not come easy to hardened systems which are resistive to change. With charter schools coming up with new ideas and experimenting with different approaches, public and private schools have also started endorsing innovation. When every institute tries to innovate, something worthwhile is certainly in the offing eventually.
4. Charter schools can cater to a niche. Not every family would want their child to undergo the same type of education as others. Many kids may want to be educated in a different manner. Specific subjects may be in the focus, co-curriculum or extra curriculum may be the more concentrated area and even the manner in which education is imparted can be altered to suit the specific needs of students and their families. This is not possible with public schools since they need to have similar standards or a conventional approach. Private schools also have to deal with the fellow competition and thus don’t cater to a particular niche.
1. Charter schools have a bearing on the fiscal health of a state or country. Depending on the allocation of funds, there could be fiscal deficits. A financial crunch may delay funding to such schools which may impair their ability to function smoothly. Then there are problems with more charter schools opening up which would cost more and the state or federal exchequer would be under further stress. There is an opinion that iterates: improving existing schools would be a much more cost effective exercise than trying to create and develop a new education system.
2. Charter schools are not open to all. On paper, there is provision that states everyone should be allowed admission or an opportunity for enrollment at charter schools but in reality, on the ground, that doesn’t happen. Charter schools often target a specific audience depending on various factors. Some charter schools are notorious enough to have targeted families based on undesirable attributes such as races. But that isn’t the widespread practice right now.
3. Charter schools are publicly funded. It is taxpayers’ money that gets rerouted to educate the wards of the citizens. In such a scenario, there should be no roof for companies or organizations that aim to make a profit. There is no sense in allowing companies to make profit from the money that, in a way, has been raised from the people. Charter schools often don’t spend much on teachers, infrastructure or elements associated with the education of the students. Companies often tend to focus more on making profits, which is absolutely unacceptable.
4. Charter schools are run independently. Despite being funded with public money, they are not answerable to the public. They are not within the ambit of Freedom of Information Act and they cannot be compelled to disclose any information that they don’t want to. The limited or lack of transparency is bothering many families and also those that don’t send their kids to charter schools but have their share of investment anyway.
5. Again, as charter schools are independent and don’t answer to the public or to queries made by any citizen, they don’t have the degree of accountability that public schools or even the private schools have. There is no saying who gets appointed on the boards, how the organization goes about its policy formation and who should be held responsible should something go wrong. This lack of accountability and also no control of citizens or the state do not instill confidence in families or in students. It is quite possible that charter schools would not live up to their expectation, not educate students properly or hire teachers who are not good enough and yet there would be no one whom the organization would be answerable to. No individual would be held accountable.
6. Charter schools are not the healthiest of options for a society. In a society, there should be a degree of equality. There are various stratums in a society but that doesn’t need to be highlighted or targeted by an organization. Charter schools deliberately target certain sections of the society depending on what they want and what would suit their agenda. This is not healthy for any society. When such targeting is done purely on the basis of economics or racial segregation, then the reality becomes more undesirable. But charter schools cannot be blamed solely for this. Many families, despite being a part of the society, actually want this segregation. Besides, many private schools also do such segregation based on profiles of families. However, private schools have the argument that they are not using public funding directly.
7. Overall, it is hard to say if charter schools are good or bad. They surely serve some purpose and it is difficult to take a step back to the era before charter schools. But, whether or not there would be more in the future is certainly a question that cannot be answered right now.