A new study from the National Alliance for Public Charters takes a look at charter school management, programs and students over the last year. Charter schools continue to grow, enrolling 250,000 more students last year and adding 400 more schools to serve these students. There are now nearly 7,000 charter schools open in 42 states and Washington, D.C. The report estimates that, in the last 15 years, charter schools have seen a 600 percent increase in enrollment, up to 3 million students.
Scott Pearson, executive director of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, told Watchdog in an interview that this is simply supply and demand at work.
“At the most fundamental level,” Pearson said, “the growth in charter schools is a response to high demand from parents for the kind of choice and quality options that charter schools represent.” This element of choice not only attracts parents, but teachers as well. “So many people have long wanted to make public education better but, under a system of district schools with elected boards, there have been very limited opportunities for people from all walks of life to make that contribution.”
While 400 schools opened last year, 270 schools cased operations for reasons ranging from low enrollment to financial difficulty and low academic performance. Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools are closed if they’re not providing a quality education to their students. “Charter schools are far more accountable than traditional public schools,” Pearson said, “because the consequence for poor performance is that the school closes. It’s exceptionally rare that a traditional public school closes due to poor performance.”
The future of school choice is looking bright. “Charter schools are going to continue to grow and be not just a niche in our education,” Pearson said, “but a major part of the educational landscape in most cities around the country.”
Already, 27 states are home to 50 or more charter schools, with California leading the way at 1,234. Each of these schools represents opportunities for kids that they likely would not have had otherwise.
In Washington, D.C., charter schools have reinvigorated education, Pearson said. “(Charter schools have) made D.C. a place that families are choosing to move to.” From 1964 to 2010, D.C. lost nearly half its public school students, a number that began to turn around in large part because of charter schools and the improvement of traditional education. “It’s really contributed to the revitalization of DC and our economy,” he said.