Charter School vs. Public School: What’s Best?

Photo by Mary Hautman

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      In October, more than 15,000 people attended a pro-charter-school rally in Cadman Plaza Park. More recently, a charter school in Fort Greene was accused of discriminating against under-performing students.

      Many pro-charter folks believe the independent institutions provide more choice and better educational experiences. But a number of public school advocates argue that charter schools skim the best students while taking attention and resources away from public schools that need them.

      Which system is better? Where do you stand?

      First, some quick definitions:

      Public schools are tax-funded institutions overseen by the city’s Department of Education and free for any kid in the city. There are more than 1,800 public schools in New York City, and each school must accept any student in its particular zone, though kids can apply to schools outside of their neighborhood.

      Charter schools are also publicly funded and free for students, but they aren’t associated with a particular school district and they don’t have to follow many of the same regulations as city-run public schools — things like particular curriculums, quotas, or school hours. Rather, they must meet the achievement goals outlined in a formal agreement — a charter — with their authorizer, either NYC DOE, SUNY Charter School Institute or NYSED.

      New York State law was amended to prohibit for-profit charter schools. There may be a few left from when the law allowed this, but they are frowned upon by authorizers. Some of the city’s best-known charter schools are Ascend, Success Academy, Achievement First, and KIPP.

      Charter School vs Public School

      Photo by Mary Hautman

      Neither the pro-public or pro-charter camp thinks our existing education system is perfect. But they think it should be fixed in different ways.

      What the Pro-Charter Folks Want
      More money and more charter schools. Many creators of charter schools were frustrated by the quality of a local public school and wanted to make a viable alternative for parents and kids. They believe that introducing more choice into a student’s education options is a good thing and that schools released from district strictures (and the teacher’s union) help charter schools to be more agile and effective with their methods.

      What the Public School Advocates Want
      More resources to fix the education system we have. Some public school advocates contend that charter schools are inherently discriminatory — that the strict disciplinary policies are put in place to “weed out” under-performing students and thereby boost test scores. Many folks in this camp believe that giving public money to the independent institutions drains the cash from already under-funded public schools and siphons off caring parents and teachers who’d otherwise fight to make their local public school even better.

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      Five Facts

      • There are currently 205 charter schools and more than 1,800 public schools in all of New York City.
      • NYC’s charter schools get $1.5 billion from the Department of Education’s $27.6 billion budget.
      • A recent study found low-income, nonwhite students in urban areas tend to perform better in charter schools than in public schools.
      • As of March 2015, NYC’s charter school demographics were 56 percent African American and 36 percent Latino, according to the NYC Charter School Center.
      • The first charter school in the United States opened in 1992 in St. Paul, Minn.

      But what do you think?

      Are charter schools the answer to an under-performing public education system? Are public schools a better way to go? Or is there a middle ground?

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