Charter schools are becoming a popular alternative to North America’s public school system and their rising popularity is largely a result of affording parents greater jurisdiction over their children’s education.
The Province of Alberta defines charter schools as publicly funded independent schools that provide education in an enhanced or “customized” manner compared to the public school system. Chartered schools in Alberta operate under five-year agreements that require them to follow a provincial curriculum, hire certified teachers, and operate not-for-profit. Before each five-year agreement, the Minister of Education reviews the school’s performance to ensure that it is meeting provincial requirements.
This system utilizes market-oriented principles to regulate charter school performance, which compels them to act in the most efficient manner possible. They must guarantee equitable access and ensure that students receive quality education or risk losing their charter. Since they receive public funds, charter schools must also adhere to the same enrolment policies as public schools, therefore, allowing students equal access, as opposed to private schools, which are substantially more expensive and “discriminatory.” The government funds them by allocating per-student funds to each charter school, as well, which results in a net balance of expenditures (and, often times, much less, since charter schools typically receive less funding per student than public schools).
There are currently several jurisdictions in the United States that “charter” schools, however, Alberta is the only province in Canada to provide similar opportunities. They could serve an important role in the rest of the country, especially in Atlantic Canada, and ought to receive more consideration given their successful performance in the United States. These schools have greater flexibility in how they choose to educate their students. For instance, some schools focus explicitly on science and technology or mathematics, however, the point is that parents and school administrators can discuss how best to improve educational delivery.
The Centre for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University recently completed a report on the quality of charter schools in 25 states, the District of Columbia, and New York City (separated from the rest of New York State due to its size). The report, titled, “The National Charter School Study,” found that charter schools fared better when compared to their public counterparts. Particularly, charter school students surpassed public school students in reading comprehension and mathematical competency. The study also indicates that charter schools benefit low-income, disadvantaged, and special needs students.
Although charter schools represent only one option for improving education in Canada, they deserve serious consideration. In the past, some groups, such as the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies and the Fraser Institute, have tried to spark a debate about education by providing education rankings, yet, politicians and public school officials criticized them severely. Education is an important societal pillar and discussing how to improve it is tremendously important. This is precisely why provincial governments need to consider alternative policies for educating students–particularly charter schools, which have a proven record of accomplishment.
Randy Kaye is a 2013-2014 Atlantic Institute for Market Studies’ Student Fellow. The views expressed are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the Institute