So what are Charter Schools? And what makes them different from traditional Public Schools? I went to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools website to find out (link).
What Are Public Charter Schools? Charter schools are unique public schools that are allowed the freedom to be more innovative while being held accountable for advancing student achievement.
Charter schools were created to help improve our nation’s public school system and offer parents another public school option to better meet their child’s specific needs. The core of the charter school model is the belief that public schools should be held accountable for student learning. In exchange for this accountability, school leaders should be given freedom to do whatever it takes to help students achieve and should share what works with the broader public school system so that all students benefit. In the early 1990s, a small group of educators and policymakers came together to develop the charter school model. Minnesota’s legislature passed the first charter law in 1991, and the first charter school opened in 1992.
How Do Charter Schools Work? Charter schools foster a partnership between parents, teachers, and students. They create an environment in which parents can be more involved, teachers are allowed to innovate, and students are provided the structure they need to learn.
The Wall Street Journal published the following article back in November of 2013. It details some of the labor struggles Charter Schools have faced (link).
Teachers Unions vs. Charter Schools - The Beginning With Children charter school in New York City announced that it will close next year because operating under union work rules has made it impossible to provide students with a decent education.
"Because the school converted from a traditional district school to a charter school in 2001, the board was bound by the [United Federation of Teachers] contract with the Department of Education," reports the New York Post. In a letter to parents notifying them of the decision, the board wrote, "We had to carry many of the burdens of being a DOE school, but we could not enjoy the benefits and flexibilities that charter status normally allows."
To understand how union work rules can impact the quality of a school, consider this passage from Steven Brill's "Class Warfare," in which he compares the teachers' contracts at Harlem Success Academy, a high-performing charter school in New York City, and a traditional public school that share the same building space and teach kids from the same socio-economic background.
"The Harlem Success teachers' contract drives home the idea that the school is about the children, not the grown-ups. It is one page, allows them to be fired at will, and defines their responsibilities no more specifically than that they must help the school achieve its mission. Harlem Success teachers are paid about 5 to 10 percent more than union teachers on the other side of the building who have their levels of experience.
"The union contract in place on the public school side of the building is 167 pages. Most of it is about job protection and what teachers can and cannot be asked to do during the 6 hours and 57.5 minutes (8:30 to about 3:25, with 50 minutes off for lunch) of their 179-day work year."
In 2010, 29 percent of the students at the traditional public school were reading and writing at grade level, and 34 percent were performing at grade level in math. At the charter school, the corresponding numbers were 86 percent and 94 percent.
What Transparent California adds to the mix here is information showing that in addition to their comparative academic successes, Charter Schools are also a lot more cost effective (link).
Or, to reverse that information, admin costs make up 60% of PUSD payroll costs, 29% at their Charter School counterparts. Something that allows charters to prioritize teaching. This next chart shows that teacher salaries are markedly different as well.
One of the more remarkable Charter School successes in the Pasadena area is Learning Works, run by Sierra Madre's own Mikala Rahn. NPR ran a great piece about Mikala's school called "Former Dropouts Push Others To Reach Finish Line," which you can link to here.