What are Charters?

district school designCharter schools are unique public schools that are allowed the freedom to be more innovative while being held accountable for advancing student achievement. Because they are public schools, they are:

  • Open to all children
  • Do not charge tuition
  • Do not have special entrance requirementscharter school design

The core of the charter school model is the belief that public schools should be held accountable for student learning. In exchange for this accountability, school leaders should be given freedom to do whatever it takes to help students achieve and should share what works with the broader public school system so that all students benefit.

(Content courtesy of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.)

Frequently Asked Questions

Do charter schools create additional financial burdens on local taxpayers?

No. If a student attends an Albany City School District (ACSD) school, approximately $22 thousand will be allocated to that student by the ACSD. If that same student decides to attend an Albany charter school (which is also a public school paid for by ACSD), he or she will be allocated approximately $14 thousand by the ACSD. As mentioned above, the funding follows the student and thus, there is no additional financial burden on taxpayers or the general public.

Do charter schools perform better than their district counterparts?

Comparatively throughout New York State, charter schools do not always perform better than district public schools. However, in a joint report from the New York State Education Department and the State University of New York in the fall of 2012, every charter school in Albany was deemed to be “in good academic standing”, while none of the City School District of Albany’s 15 traditional public schools received as high of a rating. If charter schools are not meeting the higher-than-district performance standards set out for them however, they can face state-guided closure or restructuring.

Do charter schools use a selective admissions process to ensure that only the best possible students are admitted?

Charter schools are not allowed to prohibit any student from enrolling in school on the basis of the student’s academic ability, behavioral standing at their former school, race or ethnicity, family income level, social standing, or any other discriminatory basis. Students are admitted on a first-come-first-serve basis. When space is limited due to high demand, students are admitted by lottery system, which are often held publically to ensure transparency.

Can charter schools expel or dismiss students that detract from the overall academic performance or behavioral cultural of the school?

Just as charter schools are not allowed to exclude a student from enrolling based on any of the discriminatory criteria mentioned above, the same applies to expulsion or dismissal procedures. It is the philosophy of all charter schools to succeed no matter what the circumstances are. Whether this means spending extra time with students experiencing academic difficulties or taking a comprehensive approach with students that are prone to behavioral issues, charter school teachers and staff are expected to go the extra mile and work incredibly hard for their students.

Are charter schools very strict in their instructional style? Are they like military schools? 

One best practice identified and employed by charter schools is the creation of a unique school culture focused around a particular core value or set of core values. As a result, each charter school is different. Whereas the school environment at one charter might be focused around a self-exploration teaching model, another might be rooted in closely guided instruction. Charter schools are not for everyone and some parents/guardians might disagree with a charter school’s principles or culture. It is entirely the parent’s/guardian’s decision to remove their son or daughter from a charter school if the parent/guardian does not feel that it is the right fit for their child.

Do students with special needs that attend charter schools receive the same services that they would at district public schools?

Because charter schools in Albany operate on a much tighter budget than ACSD schools ($14 thousand per pupil for charters, as opposed to $22 thousand per pupil for ACSD), charter schools are sometimes unable to provide all of the same special needs services that ACSD schools have access to. However, students with special needs – such as students with mental or physical disabilities, English language learners, or students with individualized education plans – are always admitted into charter schools (if space allows) whereupon teachers, administrators, parents/guardians, and the student work as a team to provide the best possible education model for the student. They are free to do this outside the limitations and confines that can result from the bureaucratic rules and regulations found in traditional district public schools.

Since state authorizing and oversight agencies rely on tests to determine the success of charter schools, are charter schools only succeeding in “teaching to the test”?

Charter schools use instant and real-time feedback from testing data to measure the progress and development of their students. Often times, students will enter a charter school two to three grade levels behind in math and/or reading. Teachers rely on regular weekly and monthly progress tests to assess each student’s academic standing and development. This allows teachers to construct or alter real-time curricula to meet the needs of the individual learner – attentiveness, responsiveness, and flexibility that would not be possible in a district school.

Are charter schools run or motivated by private or non-educational interests (political, business, religious, etc.)?

No. Charter schools are a tool for education reform, designed to address the widespread and interconnecting problems facing public education. In New York State, prospective charter schools are required to complete an extremely thorough chartering process wherein they outline the guiding principles for the proposed school. This is a process strictly overseen and guided by one of two NYS authorizing agencies (NYS Education Department or the SUNY Board of Regents) for compliance with NYS education laws. Therefore, no charter school is approved without strict oversight of New York State for compliance with educationally aligned values and principles.