More and more states are offering more options for educating our children. Charter schools provide a real choice and are typically either lower cost than private schools and often the same costs as public schools. In fact, in most states, they are public schools but with open boundaries and often a focused approach. If you are considering a charter school for your children, here are the important steps to follow in deciding among your many options.
Time Required: 10-20 hours depending on the number of schools evaluatied
- Do your research. Most charter schools have websites, and many are linked from the site of your local school district. Visit the school's website to get a sense of what they offer. You can also visit greatschools.net where there are profiles of many charter schools online.
- Ask other parents. The most effective way to get early feedback on charter schools is to ask other parents what they know about them. With the growing popularity of charters, many parents of your children's friends will have some exposure to the charter schools in your area. Use your networking skills to find parents whose children are involved at a charter and get their take on it.
- Check out special interest schools. One of the great things about the charter school concept is that they often specialize in special interests. There are charter schools that offer great programs in performing arts, visual arts, business, technology, math and science, vocational/technical and foreign languages and cultures. If your child has an interest or aptitude in these areas, you will probably find a charter school nearby with that special focus.
- Schedule a visit. The best way to get a good feel for a charter school is to visit. Given the flexibility allowed for charter schools, it may or or may not look like a traditional public school. Visit classrooms, media centers, computer labs, cafeterias, auditoriums, and athletic facilities. Make sure you see it all.
- Interview the Principal. Talk to the chief education official at the school--sometimes they are a principal, but sometimes he or she is called headmaster or some other title. Ask about the school's approach to discipline. Find out about extracurricular activities available. Find out about the costs associated with having your children there. Get some stats about the student body--socio-economic backgrounds, second languages, graduation rates and test scores.
- Scope out the charter. The idea of charter schools is that they actually are granted a charter--a document outlining the school's mission and focus. In many cases, the charters require varying levels of parental involvement. The charter will often specify requirements for teacher certification. Get a copy of the charter and get familiar with the requirements placed on the school, parents and students.
- For secondary schools. If your child is in middle school or high school, there are some additional things you should ask about. Get the college placement records and test scores. Find out if advanced placement classes or concurrent enrollment programs are offered. See if they have career counseling or guidance counseling programs. And check out sports programs, whether competitive with other schools or more intramural, if your child is interested.
- Ask lots of questions. Don't be afraid to ask anything. It's your child's education that is at stake.
- Visit when classes are in session. You'll get a better feel for how the students react if you are there when they are there.
- Find out about transportation. Frequently, charter schools do not bus students because of their open boundaries. So you'll want to find out about parking lots, drop off zones, walking distances and carpooling options.
What You Need
- Website addresses for schools
- Checklist of questions you want to ask
- Time to visit during school hours