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On the map - Charter schools - All in the mix

John Howson

John Howson

England is not the only country trying new forms of school organisation and control. For just over a decade, the US has been experimenting with so-called charter schools. Like the first academies and the Coalition's free schools in England, a charter school is publicly funded and typically governed by a group or organisation under a legislative contract or charter with the state where it is located.

As with academies in England, the charter exempts the school from selected state or local rules and regulations.

In return for funding and autonomy, the charter school must meet the accountability standards articulated in its charter. As of February 2010, charter schools operate in 40 states across the US. In 10 states, a charter school law has not been passed, so they cannot be set up there.

From 1999-2000 to 2007-08, the number of students enrolled in charter schools in the US more than tripled, from 340,000 to 1.3 million.

The distribution of charter school students by raceethnicity also altered during this period. For example, the percentage of students who were white decreased from 42 per cent in 1999-2000 to 39 per cent in 2007-08. Additionally, the percentages of students who were black and American IndianAlaska Native fell during this period from 34 to 32 per cent and from 2 to 1 per cent, respectively.

However, the percentages of Hispanic and AsianPacific Islander students increased from 20 to 24 per cent and from 3 to 4 per cent, respectively.

The racial concentration of students in charter schools differs from that of public schools in general. In 2007-08, about 26 percent of charter schools had student populations that were more than 50 per cent black, compared with 17 per cent of all public schools.

It is also worth noting that, nationally, more than half of charter schools (55 per cent) were located in cities in 2007-08, with 22 per cent in suburban areas, 8 per cent in towns, and 15 per cent in rural areas.

Following the reconstruction after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans school district expects 80 per cent of its publicly funded schools to be charter schools as part of a city-wide scheme that has gone far beyond just replacing buildings destroyed in the storm. I doubt that any other city in the US has undertaken such a sweeping restructuring, but Mayor Bloomberg has made radical changes in at least part of New York. The next few years will tell whether greater autonomy and private sector practices can create improved schools.

John Howson is director of Education Data Surveys, part of TSL Education.

Pupils at publicly funded, non-charter schools

White: 58

Black: 16

Hispanic: 20

AsianPacific Islander: 4

American IndianAlaska Native: 1

Pupils at charter schools

White: 41

Black: 29

Hispanic: 24

AsianPacific Islander: 4

American IndianAlaska Native: 2

Teachers at publicly funded, non-charter schools

White: 83

Black: 7

AsianPacific Islander: 1

American IndianAlaska Native: 1

Two or more races: 1

Teachers at charter schools

White: 73

Black: 12

AsianPacific Islander: 3

American IndianAlaska Native: NA

Two or more races: 2.

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