What is a Charter School?
A charter school is an independent public school that operates under a charter or contract with its school board, district, or state department of education. Schools functioning by this method have more flexibility in their curriculum and governance. There is a debate about whether charter schools are private or state public schools. They have private attributes in that the school can be selective in the students they admit to the program. They are also public concerning the state laws they must adhere to regarding the education of their students. These schools also receive state funding. Like public schools, there is no tuition.
Charter schools are not bound to the regulations regarding the acceptance of students within a defined geographical district. Similar to private schools, charters may admit whom they want, typically based upon interviews with the parents and the student. Consideration is given to a student’s grades, attitude, and academic performance. The school may not discriminate or affiliate with a particular religious denomination. Some schools require that parents be an active participant at school meetings, volunteer opportunities, and the school’s Educational Plan and Curriculum. At these schools, parents may need to sign a contract or agreement of participation.
As of 2015, 6,700 charter schools had an enrollment of approximately 2.9 million students in the United States.
Teaching in a Charter School
The semi-autonomy of a charter school creates innovative teachers who are encouraged to develop curricula and programs that stimulate students. Teachers are free of the confines of the rigid instruction mandated at public schools. In this setting, parents may offer their input and opinions. As noted above, some schools demand that parents become involved in the educational process. This involvement could result in conflict between the parents and the teaching staff.
However, the smaller class size and individual attention to each student makes for engaging teaching experience. The low teacher to student ratio provides a feeling of empowerment and a closer connection with each student’s success in the classroom.
State certification for charter schools varies by state. Some states require the same certification as public schools. Generally, teachers need the minimum of a bachelor’s degree, complete a preparation program, and take the state or national certification examination. The Praxis test, for example, is a standardized test for prospective teachers to gauge their skills and knowledge. The national test is a requirement of 46 states, plus the District of Columbia. Teacher certification by each state is available at Western Governors University Teachers College.
In the school year 2016–17, there were 98,160 public schools in the United States – 7,010 were charter schools.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), twenty-three states require charter school teachers to be licensed by the same standards as public school teachers. The Oregon School Boards Association (OSBA), for example, does not need all of its charter school teachers to be licensed. Only 50% of the full-time teaching and administrative staff must have a current license issued by the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission (TSPC). The remaining teachers require registration with the TSPC.
The Department of Education in Arizona does not govern charter schools. Therefore, they may establish their own teacher eligibility requirements. Consequently, the hiring criteria may differ from one charter school to the next. With this variance, there are those that demand teachers have their state license, the same as their counterparts in the public school system. For certification, Arizona uses the Educator Proficiency Assessment test. The three exams depending on the grades you plan to teach are:
- Early Childhood
- Elementary School
- Secondary School Level
A job posting for a 1st Grade Teacher for the 2020-2021 school year in Phoenix stipulates that applicants need a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree in Education. The qualifications also state that charter schools do NOT require certification. However, candidates must have at least two years of teaching experience and pass the background check. The posting advertises a starting salary of $38,500 to $46,500 on Indeed.com.
Another job posting for a K-8 grades Middle Schooll teacher in Peoria, Arizona, states that applicants need a valid state (AZ) teaching certificate and/or qualifying AEPA exam completion. AEPA is the Arizona Educator Proficiency Assessments.
Even if you choose a state with less stringent teaching certification requirements, there are other differences between public and charter schools.
- 96% of teachers work in traditional public schools
- Salary could be 10-12% less in charter schools
- 55% of charter teachers are dissatisfied with their pay
- Unionized: All Charter Schools in Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, and Maryland were unionized in 2016-17
- Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Vermont do not have a charter school law.
- Charter schools may have longer days or extended classes