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Phoenix Forward magazine

5 things to know before choosing a charter school

Charter schools

Wondering how to get special attention for your child’s talents? You might consider charter schools, which are tuition-free, taxpayer-funded, independent public schools.

They can be less traditional, and often have a specific focus, such as on technology and the arts. But, like traditional public schools, charter schools receive government funding based on their numbers of students and attendance, and must meet state scholastic standards.

“Charter schools can be a great option,” says Robert Gardner, a public high school teacher who has worked with charter schools and is an instructor in the master’s in education program at the University of Phoenix San Antonio Campus. With about 5,000 charter schools in 39 states, seek one that best suits your child’s interests or needs. Here are five things to consider:

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Charters set their own goals.

Every school has a “charter,” or mission, that defines its learning style or focus.

“If you have a kid who excels at the arts, for instance, you might want to look for a charter with an artistic focus, because you won’t find that exposure to arts education in a regular public school,” says Raye Lynn White, a public high school vice principal and instructor in the master’s in education program at the University of Phoenix San Antonio Campus.

Other charters may focus on the environment or math and science, or incorporate a different learning style, such as Montessori, which encourages children to learn at their own pace.

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Performance matters.

Charter school students must take the same state-mandated tests as traditional public school students and are evaluated on the same criteria, Gardner points out.

If you want to know how a school fares scholastically, talk to other parents in your community and visit schools that interest you. You can also visit school comparison websites.

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Finances are flexible.

Charter schools have more flexibility in spending government money, Gardner says. A public school must use a specific amount for textbooks, while a charter school can be more creative with its budget by allocating more money for microscopes if it has a science focus, for example.

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Teachers have no tenure track.

There are pros and cons of this: Charter school teachers — unlike traditional school teachers — have one-year contracts, so they could be under even more pressure to perform well to keep their jobs.

A drawback, Gardner notes, is that without the promise of long-term employment, charter schools may be more likely to lose some of their best teacher candidates to positions that come with a guarantee of employment.

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Unlike private schools, they must consider all candidates.

By federal mandate, charter schools must accept any child who applies. If a school has more applicants than it has room for, it must hold a lottery to determine who gets in.

However, not every charter school has enough money to accommodate children with special needs. If your child requires lots of individual attention, White says, a small charter school might not suit your child compared with a larger public school that has more money to educate special needs kids.

Interested in furthering your education?