Charter schools are essentially publicly funded private schools. They are public in the sense that they are taxpayer funded; they do not charge families tuition. They are private in the sense that there’s an application process; they are subject to fewer rules and regulations, and they are often managed by non-governmental organizations. Charter schools are however still accredited and monitored by the state of Texas.
Note that HoustonSchoolSurvey.com does not currently provide detailed analysis of charter schools. This article is meant to provide only a brief overview of this type of school.
The state of Texas authorized the creation of charter schools in 1995. In essence, the vision behind creating charter schools was to improve public education through private competition – allowing the private sector to innovate using public funds. According to the revision of the Texas Education Code at the time, the purpose of creating charter schools was to:
1. Improve student learning;
2. Increase the choice of learning opportunities within the public school system;
3. Create professional opportunities that will attract new teachers to the public school system;
4. Establish a new form of accountability for public schools, and
5. Encourage different and innovative learning methods.
Enrollment and Demographics
Charter school enrollment accounts for nearly 20% of students either enrolled in an independent charter, HISD charter or HISD non-charter school (35,000 in independent charters, 14,000 in HISD charters, and 190,000 in HISD). According to data compiled by the non-profit organization Children at Risk (CAR), in 2013, there were 6 high, 33 middle, and 37 elementary non-HISD charter schools with total enrollment of approximately 35,000 students in the Houston area.
Charter schools target primarily minority and economically disadvantaged families. According to CAR’s data, 84% of charter elementary students came from economically disadvantaged families and 86% were either black or Hispanic.
However, this enrollment mirrors HISD as a whole. According to 2011-2012 enrollment data for HISD, 80.4% of students were economically disadvantaged and 87.5% were either black or Hispanic.
Charter School Performance
Charter school performance is almost as hotly debated as private versus public schools. According to CAR’s annual rankings of Houston public and charter schools, only half of the 76 Houston charter schools scored a grade of B or higher, with the other half scoring Cs, Ds, and Fs – 15 out of 37 elementary schools scored an A or B, 19/33 (middle school), and 4/6 (high school). As with public and even private schools, the efficacy of education varies widely from school to school and depends on many factors.
Applying to a Charter School
Students must apply to and be admitted to attend a charter school. Similar to HISD magnet schools, schools use a lottery to determine which students are offered admission. The only information that goes into the lottery is basic identifiers such as name, age, and address. Only after a student has been guaranteed admission to a student may the school then request more information such as past academic achievement.
The lottery system is not completely by chance. In particular, most charter schools are established to serve a certain geographic area. Students living within a school’s defined zone receive preference over “out-of-zone” applicants. Additionally, most schools give preference to siblings of already enrolled students and to the children of faculty and staff.
Article last updated on February 25, 2014.
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