In the United States, primary and secondary public school education, undergoes continual monitoring and discussion by government leaders, educators, and parents. According to a survey, by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, in 1994, 39 percent of fourth graders, 37 percent of eighth graders and 36 percent of twelfth graders, scored below average, on basic skills assessment tests, in the United States ( Finn, Ravitch 22-24 ). News coverage also tends to continuously broadcast that the United States lags behind global peers in pre-college education. For this reason, parents, governments and educators are constantly searching for new ways to improve, and overcome learning obstacles, in education. One of the new concepts emerging is the charter school.
In the United States, the charter school was modeled after Margaret Thatcher’s idea of a public school operating independently, while being funded by grants. A similar concept currently exists, for all public education, in New Zealand ( Finn et al. 48-52 ). In 1992, after the first charter law was passed, Minnesota opened City Academy, based on this concept. The charter focused on recruiting and teaching high school drop-outs ( Buechler 60-63 ). All charter schools, including this first one, are based on certain guidelines. Charters are created by normal citizens desiring to fill a specific need in their area, or to implement a new teaching method. The administration and teaching operate independently from most local school board rules, and funds are used only within the charter school. Any business, parent, teacher or group may apply to open a charter, provided they are not religiously affiliated or a private school already. A charter need only to submit paperwork outlining a curriculum, sponsor, and a place of operation, plus the goals they expect in their students. Local or state school boards then have the option to approve or disapprove of the charter. If the charter idea is accepted, the charter may begin recruitment of students. A contract written and signed between the charter and the school board usually lasts a few years and its renewal is based on positive results or goals achieved. There are also certain laws dealing with charters. A charter must be tuition free and open and free of any discrimination to all children in the district ( Olson Art. 64 ). Charters are almost entirely funded by state and national monies, which normally follow a student to their public school. The money instead will follow the student to his or her chosen charter. Charters are also sometimes funded by private individuals or companies. Arizona ammended their charter school law to create a one million dollar start-up fund. Most states do not provide start-up fees which cover building rental, supplies, teachers and administration, before children arrive at their doors. This creates a hardship for most charters when they first open and prevents others from ever opening (Buechler 60-63 ).
As of February 1997, five hundred charter schools operated nationwide, offtering a variety of different curriculums ( “Schools” 27-28 ). In New Jersey, by creating a public boarding prepatory school, educators devised a way to begin to reach children in their teen years, at risk for dropping out of school. School director Gary T. Reece states, ” We’ve created a safe haven here where kids can risk caring about school without suffering for it”(Cohen 16 ). The teens live in an area where schools are crowded and crime is high. ( Cohen 13 ) In Boston, three types of charters are operating within the city. City on a Hill established for high school students, adds a twist in its curriculum, by creating city hall type debates involving the students. The teens become comfortable with public speaking at a time when they usually avoid it. Another high school named Renaissance, has 205 days in the school year, plus uses integrated teaching within all the classes. Lastly, is an elementary school named Neighborhood House. This school teaches one subject within another. A writing assignment may deal with science or science may be created in art class ( “Schools” 27-28 ). Add to these examples, charters which stress technology, basic academics, smaller classes, discipline, on-line teaching, home study, whole language, afrocentism, back-to- basics, and those that cater to high-school drop-outs and gifted students. Some charters also partner with zoos, museums, businesses, unions, or community groups ( Buechler 60-63 ) .As a Principal of Harriet Tubman Village School Charter, Roger Sciarretta states, “The only thing consistent about charter schools is that they’re all different.” “Each one has it’s own flavor and style” ( Anderson 1A+ ) .
In Florida, the Charter School law was adopted in 1996 and as of the 1997-98 school year, thirty-three were operating statewide ( Saunders ). As to why it took till 1996, Betty Golzendorf, D-Jacksonville said, “If Florida is going to start Charter Schools, then they should be the best Charter Schools in the country” ( Patterson B-1 ). Charters in Florida receive 52,000 dollars as a start-up fee, to help alleviate some of the difficulties before admitting students. Charters also can apply for any funds the government grants for low income or disabilities ( MacDonald ). Ninety-five percent of student fees, usually received by a district, follow the charter student to their selected charter ( Pendleton B-1 ). Before accepting students, a Florida charter must be approved by the local school board, and if denied, may appeal to the State Board of Education ( Saunders ). A Florida charter may be created by groups of citizens, teachers, individuals or legal entities. Private schools and religious organizations are barred from forming a charter school. The charter must also, be open to all children, and follow health, safety, welfare and civil rights laws. Each district is allowed so many charters according to their population. If a district has 100,000 or more people, they may have seven charters established per year. A population of 50,000- 100,000 may create five charters per year. Populations under 50,000 people are allowed three charters per year. (Pendleton B-1 ).
In Duval County, five charter schools are currently open, and all are geared towards helping middle school children. Radar Schools focuses on behavior, academics, and truancy. The Police Athletic League is housing and supporting the school (Saunders). Daniel Payne Academy stresses technological curriculum for sixth graders, two years behind grade level . The students receive individual testing, with a focus on building self-esteem and discipline. The students are also required to wear uniforms, and parental involvement is encouraged (Desmon A-1 ). Daniel Payne Academy, School of Success Academy and Empowering Young Minds, all must deal with raising student test scores to meet the Duval County Average of a 49 percentile in reading and 50 percentile in math. Because these schools focus on children in middle school that are behind grade level academically their students averages are below the county average (MacDonald ).
In their creation, charters were not meant to replace the public school system. Charter supporters feel that seeking different options for schooling will enhance the current public school system. This in turn, will boost the academic standing in our nation, placing us alongside our foreign counterparts.
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Cohen, Mark F. “People’s Prep”. The New Republic (1998) : 13-16.
Desmon, Stephanie. “Charting a New Kind of School”. The Florida Times-Union 9 Mar.1997: A-1. NewsBank CD-ROM.
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Finn, Chester E. Jr., et al. “The New School”. National Review 15 Sep. 1997: 48-52.SIRS CD-ROM. Art. 76.
Olson, Lynn. “Supply Side Reform or Voucher? Charter-School Concept Takes Hold”.Education Week 15 Jan. 1992: SIRS CD-ROM. Art. 64.
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Saunders, Jim. “Duval Ruliing On Charter School Falls”. The Florida Times-Union Online. Internet. 15 Jul. 1998: Available http://jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/071598/met_2A1CHART.html.
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