What are charter schools and does a charter school provide something more than a traditional neighborhood public school? Why would a parent want to look any further than their nearest traditional public school anyway?

For some time now I have been reading the Charter School Insights blog written by Doug Hering and Peter Hilts. Charter School Insights was named one of the top 20 education blogs to read in 2010 by Jay Mathews of the Washington Times.

Charter School Insights is a great blog packed with tons of information and discussion topics centering on charter schools and their accountability, criticism, growth, laws, policy, purpose, effectiveness, enrollment, student engagement, and just about anything and everything you can think of to do with charter schools.

Doug Hering is also a writer for as the Colorado Charter Examiner, and he keeps up to date on Colorado charter school news and tips as well as charter school news around the nation.

I had the pleasure of meeting Doug earlier this year at the Colorado League of Charter Schools Rally at the Colorado State Capitol. The other day Doug and I shared a few e-mails where he answered some of my questions about charter schools, and it is my pleasure today to post an interview of the very insightful and passionate advocate for charter schools, Doug Hering.

1-How would you define a charter school?
A charter school is a public school that operates with some independence from the local district. The amount of independence depends on the authorizer and the charter contract itself. The charter contract defines the terms under which the school may operate. It includes terms such as the student population drawn from, the educational methods the school will use, the reporting requirements. Depending on the contract, it may also include issues such as class size and governance. Charter schools normally try to fill some need in the community. The different reasons for a charter school may include the needs for a higher standard or different method of education.

2-What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Charter Schools?
The advantages of charter schools include the freedom to try methods or curriculum not chosen by the local districts. Often it also includes the freedom to structure classrooms differently and hire teachers who might fit the federal definition of highly qualified, but not have a state teaching certificate. Charter schools can also serve specific populations. For example, in Colorado, we have an all-girls school as well as a school for the deaf and hearing impaired.

The disadvantages so far are that, depending on how you define success, many charter schools do not live up to their promises. In addition, if the charter school does not have good governance, the school can end up in a financial mess or have other issues that come from inept oversight.

3-How is a charter school different from my nearest neighborhood traditional public school?
The difference will really depend on what kind of charter school or schools are available locally. The differences could range from smaller class sizes to a fully project based learning method that would be more experiential than the typical classroom. A charter school might pursue a Core Knowledge curriculum, which many have labeled as a sort of “back to basics” curriculum. So, there are many ways that a charter school might differ from the traditional public school. If a parent is interested in a change, then it’s best for the parent to visit the charter school and find out how a child might fit in that school.

4-Do charter schools support special needs such as ESL, GT, SPED?
Most states require charter schools to support special needs children in one way or another. Often that is by purchasing services from the local district. Each state handles this differently. This is often difficult for small charter schools or even small school districts.

5-What is a parent’s role in a charter school and how does that role differ from a traditional public school?
It’s not always the case, but most charter schools encourage or even require parent involvement in the school. Traditional public schools in some areas have been encouraging more parent involvement, but charter schools really have seemed to be the leader here. Sometimes a charter school will require a specific number of volunteer hours.

6-How are charter schools accountable? Who do they answer to?
Charter schools answer to their parents, their authorizers and to the state. Because they are schools of choice, students only come to charter schools if the parents are satisfied with the school. So, it’s important that a charter school satisfy a significant number of parents. Authorizers require schools to report at least quarterly. Schools normally have to provide financial statements as well as various student assessment information. Many states are beginning to see the value of authorizers taking a more active role in supervising charter schools. Charter schools also have to report to the state. They have to provide budgets, financial reports, human resources information, and students have to take the state standardized test.

7-How do I go about finding a charter school in my community?
Finding a charter school is relatively easy. Most state departments of education have a list of charter schools on their web sites. Various charter school organizations also maintain lists. For example, The Center for Education Reform has a searchable database of charter schools.

8-Do all states have charter schools?
At this point, some states still have not enacted a law allowing charter schools. Thirty nine states and the District of Columbia have charter schools.

Doug’s Colorado Charter School Examiner Page 

See what Doug Hering and Peter Hilts have to say about the world of charter schools


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  1. Good post! I think that school choice in any form needs to be supported and encouraged by us all. There are some awesome examples of Charters doing amazing things! Thanks for doing this interview Lori!

  2. Thank you Lori and Doug for answering questions many ask about charter schools.

  3. I have one daughter in a Charter school and I really like it. They really focus on the test scores, but they dont just teach the test. The extra classes are really good as well. HOWEVER – ours doesnt have a very good special needs class or system in place. We took our oldest daughter out and she is now in a special needs private school.

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