Policy Documents

Charter Schools: Rationale & Research

Timothy J. Gronberg –
November 18, 2009

Charter schools are thus given a degree of autonomy from the school districts in which they are located, although state boards of education usually retain a degree of oversight that permits them to monitor the schools progress and to shut down schools that are not performing well. Additionally, charter schools usually receive less state funding than traditional public schools, meaning that as long as they can equal the performance of traditional public schools, charter schools are giving taxpayers more value for their education dollars.

Proponents of charters point to several features of the charter design as a positive step in expanding school choice. Charters provide free, publicly funded educational alternatives to traditional public schools, using competition as an incentive to encourage innovation, efficiency, and excellence in all public schools. Charter schools encourage parental involvement by expanding the array of educational options available to parents who cannot afford private schooling for their children. Charter schools have a double incentive to perform well, because their students progress is monitored both by the government and by parents. Unlike traditional public schools, a charter school may be closed if it fails to attract students or if it fails to perform up to the government's standards. It may also be closed if it fails to perform up to state standards or those established by the school's sponsors.

The emergence of charter schools raises two important questions related to their impact on students academic achievement. First, what does the evidence say about how charter schools affect the achievement of their students are charter school students learning more or less than they would have in traditional public schools? Second, what does the evidence say about how competition from charter schools affects the performance of nearby traditional public schools? The answers to these two questions should provide insight as to the broader question of whether the charter school model can be considered a successful type of education reform.