What is a charter school?A charter school is a public school that operates under a specific performance agreement (charter) approved by a school district or county office of education. Charter schools are subject to fewer restrictions than are regular public schools, but they are accountable for meeting specific student achievement goals.
How many charter schools currently operate in California?Since the Charter Schools Act was passed in 1992, the number of charter schools has grown rapidly. There were 518 charter schools operating in California during the 2004-2005 academic year.
Does EdSource’s study prove that charter schools are ‘better’ than regular public schools?No. The study shows that classroom-based charter schools were more likely than either traditional public schools or nonclassroom-based charter schools to meet their 2004 goals for improving student achievement. However, this does not mean that all charters performed better or that charters are best for all students in all circumstances. Student achievement on state standards tests is only one factor that makes a “good school.” Many other elements, including a school’s educational approach, the training and retention of its teachers, and its facilities and resources should be considered when evaluating overall school quality.
Why are charter schools outperforming noncharters?This study measured performance levels between different types of charter schools and traditional public schools. It did not attempt to explain why those differences occur.
There are a number of theories that attempt to explain why charter schools may perform better than traditional public schools. For example, some charter school advocates believe that operating independently of the traditional school district structure and regulations provides them with greater flexibility to implement programs that improve student achievement. Another theory is that differences in performance reflect the increased parental engagement that often follows a student’s enrollment in a charter school. However, these theories were not evaluated in the EdSource report.
What is the difference between a “classroom-based” charter school and a “nonclassroom-based” charter school?A classroom-based charter is a school that requires pupils to be on campus and under the direct supervision of a teacher for at least 80 percent of instructional time. Approximately 70 percent of charter schools in California are classroom-based. Nonclassroom-based charter schools, which include independent study programs and home school support networks, do not meet the 80 percent on-campus threshold.
What is the difference between a “conversion” charter school and a “start-up” charter school?A conversion charter is a school that was once a regular public school but that now operates independently of its local district. Start-up charter schools were established as charters from the beginning.
Why is it difficult to compare charter schools with noncharter schools?There are a number of factors contributing to this challenge. Charter schools are growing at a very rapid rate, so the universe of schools for comparison is quite different from year to year. Lack of data is also a significant obstacle. About one-quarter of charter schools—and more than 40 percent of nonclassroom-based charters—did not have test scores for enough students to be included this report. Also, some charters have non-traditional grade structures (such as 2-7 or 9-10) that make comparisons problematic. Finally, direct comparisons between charters and noncharters can be misleading because of different student demographics. Generally, charter schools are less likely to serve Hispanic students, English learners, or students from low-income families.
What sources were used to measure student performance in this report?The primary data source for this report is California’s Academic Performance Index (API), which incorporates the results of STAR (the Standardized Testing and Reporting program) and CAHSEE (the California High School Exit Exam) to measure student performance. For a further explanation of the components used to calculate the API, see The Academic Performance Index (API).
How can parents learn more about the performance of a specific school?The Ed-Data Partnership Web site—www.ed-data.k12.ca.us—provides extensive information about every public school in California, including student performance and staffing information. Information on both charter and noncharter schools is available.
What have other studies concluded about charter school performance?There have been a number of state and national studies that have attempted to assess charter schools performance. However, each study evaluated a slightly different dataset, and as a result, reached slightly different conclusions. A summary of prior research is included in How Are California’s Charter Schools Performing?