School Choice & Charters

Charter School Movement Growing Rapidly, Study Shows

By Darcia Harris Bowman — February 16, 2000 4 min read

The twin desires to pursue alternative visions of schooling and better serve students with special needs are driving an increase in charter schools across the country, according to a report released last week by the U.S. Department of Education.

For More Information

Read “The State of Charter Schools,” from the U.S. Department of Education. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

The Center for Education Reform report is available for $19.95, plus $3 shipping and handling, by calling (800) 521-2118.

The department estimates some 1,700 charter schools now serve at least a quarter-million students in the United States. The publicly funded but largely independent schools typically are freed from some state and local regulations in exchange for being held accountable for student achievement.

Of 946 schools that responded to a survey question from the department on the primary reason for their founding, 58 percent said they wanted to “realize an alternative vision” of education; 23 percent said they opened to serve a special population of students, such as those considered “at risk” for academic failure.

“The vast majority of people who started charter schools saw something lacking in the traditional school system,” said Jeanne Allen, the president of the Washington-based Center for Education Reform, which released its own report on charter schools last week. “And usually, if you’re going to go to the trouble of starting up a charter school, you want to help the kids who are the most under-served in the traditional system.”

Other reasons why some schools surveyed by the center said they had sought charter status were to gain more autonomy or to improve their financial situation. Traditional public schools that converted to charter status were particularly likely to cite the former goal; converted private schools were particularly likely to give the latter.

The Education Department’s report, called “The State of Charter Schools,” is the fourth and final installment in a four-year research program analyzing the charter school movement.

Several papers are also expected to be released this spring on topics ranging from student achievement in a sample of charter schools over time to the experiences of at-risk students in these new schools, said Gregory D. Henschel, a senior program analyst in the department’s office of educational research and improvement.

Department officials say the latest survey is focused on providing answers to frequently asked questions about charter schools. But it’s also being used to buttress the Clinton administration’s request for a $30 million increase in federal funding for charter schools in fiscal 2001, for a total of $175 million.

Funding Issues

Inadequate funding is still the most commonly cited barrier to success for charter schools, according to both the Education Department report and the Center for Education Reform’s study.

“We can see that there is a continued need for our support of these schools,” U.S. Education Secretary Richard W. Riley said in a prepared statement.

But the department’s report also notes there has been a marked decline over time in the percentage of schools facing problems with start-up funding. The change “likely reflects increased federal start-up funding for charter schools and that some states are providing charter school start-up funds,” the report says.

In 1996, 59 percent of charter schools surveyed cited lack of start-up funds as a problem, compared with 39 percent in the department’s 1999 survey.

Among other findings in the Education Department’s report:

  • The percentage of nonwhite students in charter schools is larger than that of public schools overall in states with open-enrollment charter schools.
  • Most charter school classrooms had computers for instruction, the student-to-computer ratios were low, and a majority of the computers could run advanced applications.
  • Charter schools that served younger students were likely to have smaller class sizes than other public schools, while charter schools that taught high school students tended to have class sizes that were the same or larger than those in other public schools.

Gaining Momentum

While scant funds and other problems have forced a handful of charter schools to close their doors, the movement continues to grow at a remarkable pace, the new data show. Some 421 charter schools opened between September 1998 and September 1999, the biggest annual increase to date, according to the Education Department.

“People are more comfortable with the concept now, so we’re seeing more of them opening,” Ms. Allen said. “This is something that is absolutely a mainstream reform—there used to be skepticism about that statement, but not anymore.”

But as the charter school movement continues to pick up speed, the Center for Education Reform—which promotes greater choice in education—says that the opposition is also heating up.

In its report, “Charter Schools Today: Changing the Face of American Education,” the center says charter schools generally face opposition on three fronts: teachers’ unions, state boards and departments of education, and local school boards and districts.

“There’s more opposition because we’re getting to a critical mass,” Ms. Allen said.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the February 16, 2000 edition of Education Week as Charter School Movement Growing Rapidly, Study Shows


School & District Management Live Event Education Week Leadership Symposium
Education Week's Premier Leadership Event for K12 School & District Leaders.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Law & Courts Webinar
The Future of Criminal Justice Reform: A Sphere Education Initiative Conversation
America’s criminal justice system is in crisis and calls for reform are dominating the national debate. Join Cato’s Sphere Education Initiative and Education Week for a webinar on criminal justice and policing featuring the nation’s
Content provided by Cato Institute
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Choice & Charters Opinion Is Hybrid Home Schooling the Future of Education?
Rick Hess speaks with Mike McShane about hybrid home schooling, which combines the best of home schooling and traditional schooling.
7 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
School Choice & Charters Oklahoma Charter Schools Granted Local Tax Revenue in 'Seismic' Settlement
A groundbreaking settlement will fundamentally change the way charter schools are funded in Oklahoma, despite vehement opposition.
Nuria Martinez-Keel, The Oklahoman
3 min read
This July 19, 2019 photo shows an Epic Charter Schools office in Oklahoma City. The Oklahoma State Board of Education voted Thursday in favor of an agreement with the state's public charter school association to settle a 2017 lawsuit.
This July 19, 2019 photo shows an Epic Charter Schools office in Oklahoma City. The Oklahoma State Board of Education voted Thursday in favor of an agreement with the state's public charter school association to settle a 2017 lawsuit.
Sue Ogrocki/AP
School Choice & Charters COVID-19 May Energize Push for School Choice in States. Where That Leads Is Unclear
The pandemic is driving legislators' interest in mechanisms like education savings accounts, but the growth may not be straightforward.
8 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds delivers her Condition of the State address before a joint session of the Iowa Legislature on Jan. 12 at the statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds delivers her Condition of the State address to state lawmakers on Jan. 12. She's pushing a major school choice expansion.
Bryon Houlgrave/The Des Moines Register via AP
School Choice & Charters Letter to the Editor Are NOLA Charters a Mixed Bag?
To the Editor:
The opinion essay by Douglas N. Harris about how New Orleans’ education reforms post-Katrina are relevant to the COVID-19 era (“As Schools Recover After COVID-19, Look to New Orleans,” Sept. 30, 2020) highlights some basic improvements in the NOLA system but downplays the most significant aspects of those changes: the impact on people of color.
1 min read