Recently, there have been heated debates about whether or not charter schools should be allowed to grow and expand in New York City, and whether this does not lend itself to privatization of public schools. Much of the charter school debate is centered around neighborhoods in Harlem, the Bronx, and Brooklyn, but Queens does have charter schools in a number of school districts, and there are plans in the works to expand charter school options here in Queens. So what exactly is a charter school? How does it differ from traditional public school? And is it the right choice for your child?
Charter schools are seen as a viable option for parents who do not want to send their children to schools that the Department of Education deems to be failing. However, charter schools are, by design, small schools. They can only accept a limited number of students. Most charters say that their acceptance procedures are done by lottery. That is, they pick their students at random. Traditional public schools are required to accept all children within their catchment area. Kids that don’t get into charter schools often end up attending their zoned schools.
Both charter schools and traditional public schools receive government funding. A recent audit of New York City’s Department of Education spending shows that the department spent slightly more money on charter schools than on traditional public schools. In addition to the money received from the government, charter schools receive private funds from private donors. This allows charters to have more financial resources than a traditional public school.
Most charter schools in New York City are housed in school buildings that already have schools. Once the Department of Education has slated a school for closure, they take some of the space used by the school and allow a charter school to operate in that space. As the traditional school phases out, the charter school takes up more and more space in the building. This can be the source of contention for parents and teachers in the traditional school because they feel short changed in space and resources made available to the closing school
Charter schools are privately run organizations. Thus, they are able to decide how to teach and what to teach. They also have the freedom to decide on longer school days and a longer school year. Traditional public schools must follow state, and city mandated curriculum as well as follow the state public school mandates for the length of the school day and year.
As with anything, charter schools and traditional public schools are a mixed bag. Some are exceptional, many are poor, and most are average. Independent studies show that the achievements of charter schools and traditional public schools are pretty much equal–of course there are exceptions, both good and bad.
Queens Charter Schools Community School District
The deadline for applying to traditional public schools for September admission is March 4, and the deadline for applying to a charter school is April 1. Before deciding what school your child should attend, make sure that you research the school’s history, academic performance, and ratings. Some of this information may not be readily available for charter schools, but you can find traditional public school information from many sites. There are also many websites that have parent reviews of schools. Above all, make sure that the school’s philosophy and practice is a good fit for your child.