Delaware Charter Schools: Weighing the Educational and Taxpayer Pros and Cons
The number of charter schools in the state has increased. So the debate about the effectiveness of traditional public schools versus charters continues.
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The term “charter” refers to the contract the school has with its authorizer, which spells out the school’s mission, programming and goals. If a school fails to meet academic, fiscal and governance standards, its charter can be revoked, and the school will be closed. Since 1996, the state has closed four charter schools for academic and financial reasons.
Most charter schools tout smaller class sizes and more individualized attention for students. Most also have specialized curricula. For example, in Delaware, there’s Odyssey Charter School, with a Greek immersion curriculum, the Delaware Academy of Public Safety and Security, with a focus on preparing students for careers in public safety, and Positive Outcomes Charter School, which serves a high number of students with mental and learning disabilities.
Instead of a district school board, each charter school is governed by its own board of directors. Charter schools typically receive less state funding than district schools and are responsible for funding their own major capital improvements.
“What distinguishes charter education is autonomy,” Massett explains. “Charter schools are able to try new and innovative learning and teaching methods, which can then be shared across the entire system to drive student achievement.”
Like district schools, the curricula at charter schools must align with the state’s educational standards, students must take standardized tests and teachers must be certified.
Delaware’s charter schools are a mixed bag when it comes to academic performance. Only 38 percent of elementary-level charter schools met or exceeded average state test scores in third grade reading and fourth grade social studies during the 2011-12 school year. In seventh-grade reading and math, only 33 percent of charter schools met or exceeded state averages.
High school-level charter schools performed better than elementary and middle-school charters, with most beating state averages in reading and math.
Meece says these results are predictable.
“When the charter school law was written, no one expected all the charter schools to be successful or for them to replace the traditional schools,” he says. “The point was if we keep doing the same thing over and over again, then we’ll keep getting the same results.”