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For Many Reasons, Parents and Students Choose Public Charter Schools

• Sam Duell

Charter schools continue to serve more students and families seeking specific paths toward academic success. Still, some remain unclear on these effective and popular public education options for millions of students.

Charter schools are good for students.

A 2017 study found the highest performing charters have lasting effects, carrying students through college at unprecedented rates. Charter students are graduating from college at 3 to 5 times the national average.

Even though they make up less than 10 percent of public high schools, charter schools comprise 34 of the top 100 High Schools in the nation. A 2017 study by U.S. News & World Report of 22,000 public high schools found that charter schools are over-represented among the best public schools in the country.

Students attending charter schools learn more in less time. A 2015 study from Stanford found that students who attend charters in urban areas learn more efficiently. Attending a charter can have the same effect as adding dozens of days of learning to the school year.

Charter schools make traditional schools better. A 2017 study found that when charter schools are located near traditional schools, math and reading scores significantly improve for both schools.

Charter schools are still growing.

More and more families are choosing to send their children to charter schools. Data from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools demonstrates both the number of students enrolled and the number of charter schools continue to grow.
Bar Graph of NAPCS Growth in Charter Schools and Student Enrollment from 1999-2016

While the number of charter schools is growing, demand still exceeds availability – there are still more people who want to attend charters than there are available spaces. The number of students on wait lists topped 1 million students three years ago.

Not all charters are created equal, and that’s intentional.

According to recent research, some charter schools focus on classical education while many others serve specific needs for parents and students – including military, Montessori and fine arts charter schools. Some charter schools are intentionally and internally diverse, seeking to serve families who believe in voluntary integration. Charter schools are purposefully different from each other and from traditional public schools, making these schools some of the best examples of education pluralism – the idea that there is more than one purpose and one way to successfully educate children.

While data and studies tell a part of the story, the most vital opinions are those of the parents and students who have chosen charter schools to build their future. What’s clear is that the growth of these innovative public schools does – and can continue to – strengthen student learning, our communities and our nation.

About the author

Sam Duell

Before Sam joined ExcelinEd as the Associate Policy Director for Charter Schools, he was a special education teacher, a school and central office administrator, the Executive Director of School Choice at Oklahoma’s department of education and the Managing Director of OPSRC’s Education Collaborative. In every position, Sam worked creatively to meet student needs. He founded the Integrated Support Program at Fischer Middle School in San Jose, California to increase the number and percentage of students with learning disabilities who have access to the general education classroom. He was the first administrator of Oklahoma’s Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, the authorizer for online schools in Oklahoma. And he co-founded a statewide afterschool network called the Oklahoma Partnership for Expanded Learning to organize and advocate for expanded learning opportunities after school and during the summer. Sam’s current interests include charter schools and their role in a functional, thriving democracy.