The Basics

Learn more about public charter schools by referring to the list of frequently asked questions below:


What is a charter school?

Charter schools are public schools that have the freedom to be more innovative while being held accountable for improving student achievement. They were created nearly 25 years ago to find ways to improve our nation’s public schools and close the achievement gap. There are now more than 6,700 public charter schools enrolling nearly 3 million students in the United States. Click here for more information about charter schools.



How are charter schools defined in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)?

The federal definition of a charter school can be found in section 5210(1) of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Click here to read the full definition.



Does research show charter schools are effective at improving student achievement?

When Congress first created the federal Charter Schools Program in 1994, public charter schools were an emerging reform effort. States and the federal government gave seed money to test the notion that student outcomes could be improved if you gave schools freedom and flexibility in exchange for greater accountability. Today, research shows that CSP investments are paying off. Since 2010, all but one independent research study has found that students in charter schools are achieving high levels of success. For example, one study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University found that charter schools do a better job teaching low-income students, minority students, and students who are still learning English than traditional schools. Separate studies by the Center for Reinventing Public Education and Mathematica Policy Research have found that charter school students are more likely to graduate from high school, go on to college, stay in college and have higher earnings in early adulthood. Click here for a summary of the current research on public charter schools effectiveness at improving student achievement.



How are charter schools serving English language learners and special needs students?

According to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 11.7% of traditional public schools students have an IEP designation, while 9.9% of students enrolled in charter schools have an IEP designation. Additionally, 9.8% of charter schools students are English learners, compared to 9.1% in traditional public schools. Click here for more information about how charter schools are serving students with special needs and English language learners. The National Alliance partners with the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools to strengthen the recruitment of and services provided to students with disabilities.



How are charter schools held accountable?

Charter schools are public schools and are subject to Title I accountability provisions related to assessments, adequate yearly progress, and reporting requirements. Charter schools must take the same tests as other public schools, meet all state and federal standards and laws, undergo financial audits, and can be closed for low-performance.

Public charter schools are also accountable to parents, who can choose to withdraw their child at any time. The terms of accountability for charter schools are spelled out in their chartering agreements, in accordance with state law. Click here for more information about how charter schools are held accountable.


 Are charter school students beating the odds?

Many charter schools across the country are proving that every child, regardless of their background, can succeed. Here are just a few examples of charter schools got their start with federal Charter Schools Program funding and are now helping students beat the odds:

  • The Alaska Native Cultural Charter School (ANCCS) in Anchorage offers a holistic approach that combines Alaska Native language, culture, history, and traditional practices. ANCCS serves a nearly 100 percent economically disadvantaged student body and recently received the Title I Distinguished School Award for Alaska for “Closing the Achievement Gap between Student Groups”
  • Haas Hall Academy in Fayetteville, AR is ranked as a top high school by the Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, and Newsweek and has a 100% graduation rate and a 100% college acceptance rate
  • Namaste Charter School operates on an extended school day and year, offers half of its classes as bilingual education (English and Spanish), and provides support for families. The school’s founding belief that health children are better learners has earned Namaste gold awards from the Healthier US School Challenge and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation

Click here to read more about charter schools helping students beat the odds.


Do charter schools serve families in rural areas?

While the majority of charter schools serve students in urban areas (56%), the remaining schools are split between serving students in towns, suburbs, and rural areas—with 15.5% of charter schools located in rural areas. Click here to read more about how charter schools are serving students in rural communities.

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