Last Updated on 13 October 2011
- What is a Commonwealth charter school?
A Commonwealth charter school is a Massachusetts public school that operates independently of any school committee under a five-year charter granted by the Massachusetts Department of Education. A total of 56 charter schools were in operation in 2007-08 across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, with approximately 20,000 students enrolled.
- What is the purpose of the charter school initiative in Massachusetts?
The charter school initiative was established as a result of the Education Reform Act of 1993. The intent of the law was to use a portion of the public education money to provide more choices in public education, to encourage competition among public schools, and to spur innovation in pursuit of improved educational outcomes. The regulations governing charter schools give seven purposes for these schools:
How are charter schools different from district public schools?
- to stimulate the development of innovative programs within public education;
- to provide opportunities for innovative learning and assessments;
- to provide parents and students with greater options in choosing schools within and outside their school districts;
- to provide teachers with a vehicle for establishing schools with alternative, innovative methods of educational instruction and school structure and management;
- to encourage performance-based educational programs;
- to hold teachers and school administrators accountable for students’ educational outcomes; and
- to provide models for replication in other public schools.
The main difference has to do with freedom and accountability. Commonwealth charter schools operate without the constraints of local school district rules. Most charter school leaders are free to decide how all of the school’s funds are spent and to hire faculty and staff that they believe are best qualified and suited for the job. Charter schools have the freedom to control their budgets, staffing, school design, schedule, and other resources. This freedom provides an opportunity to develop a coherent program designed specifically to execute the school’s academic mission. In return for this freedom, a charter school must attract students and produce results within five years or have its charter revoked.
How are charters schools held accountable?
All charter schools are held to the same standards as public schools in assuring the health and safety of students, furnishing necessary support to meet the needs of special education students, and in testing their students using the state’s comprehensive assessment system (MCAS). In addition, every charter school is subject to an annual financial audit, and every charter school is required to hear and respond to complaints from parents. Above and beyond the standards held for district public schools, every charter school must be able to positively answer three questions in order to have its charter renewed:
Who may enroll in charter schools?
- Is the academic program a success?
- Is the school a viable organization?
- Is the school faithful to the terms of its charter?
Charter schools are public schools and, as such, are open to all students to whom other Massachusetts public schools are open. Students are enrolled through a randomized, public lottery system.
Read more about charter schools at the web sites of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education http://www.doe.mass.edu/charter/, Massachusetts Charter Public School Association http://www.masscharterschools.org/, and The Massachusetts Center for Charter Public School Excellence http://www.mccpse.org/.
* Questions and answers adapted from The Massachusetts Charter School Initiative: A Report of the MA Department of Education, 2001.