The Goals and Objectives of Charter Schools

     The role of parents in our publicly-funded state schools is necessary limited in scope because of the nature and political structure of the system itself. Parents have the duty and privilege of electing those who will represent them as members of a school board, but they must then allow those representatives or trustees to form and implement policy on their behalf. School personnel are hired and paid indirectly by parents through the elected trustees, but then school officials must operate the school according to the policy set forth by the board of education. Parents at the local school level have no power and very little influence over any policy concerning educational issues.

   Most parents are quite content with this arrangement, and they have no difficulty entrusting qualified, professional educators with the education of their children. They realize that they themselves do not have the expertise to make decisions concerning academic issues. They also believe that the elected board of trustees will find the best possible professionals to supervise the entire system as well as to work directly with students at the school level.

     A growing number of parents, however, are not satisfied with a system that makes decisions for everyone without taking into account the particular needs of local communities. These parents want to have more control of their community school and its operations, and it is because of this that some jurisdictions have implemented a charter school system in certain areas.

     A charter school essentially transfers control from a public system to the school stakeholders in a specific community. Using the number of students attending the school as a guide, a portion of the public budget is assigned to the community which must then operate the school as an independent concern. Parent representatives as well as other prominent community figures must be elected and entrusted with the task of hiring a principal and teachers, maintaining school property, and balancing the school budget.

     The parent representatives of a charter school are also responsible for the evaluation of staff, and they must fire and replace any that do not meet community expectations. In the case of charter schools, what is normally done at a school board level is done at a community level. Needless to say, although there are a number of benefits to such a system, many difficulties can arise, both educationally and legally.

     One of the difficulties of a charter school system is that a great majority of parents have neither the time nor the expertise to supervise and control the educational needs of a school. A small, vocal group tends to take over, and this is often resented by other parents who do not have the time to be involved. The school must still adhere to state or provincial curriculum guidelines, but parents are not usually capable of assessing how well this is being done. Furthermore, it is difficult for parents to assess the competence of principals and teachers since their duties and responsibilities are defined by law and professional assessments need to be done by qualified educators.

    Although it is important for local needs to be considered, charter schools are usually not the most effective way of doing this. Under a more conventional system, parents, in cooperation with the principal and staff, can still be involved in assessing local concerns that can then be introduced at a board level. This tends to be more productive because more resources and services are available in a wider system. It also removes a heavy burden of responsibility from small groups of parents and usually satisfies the parent community as a whole.

Charter schools have achieved a limited success in some areas. However, it is unlikely that they will ever become widely popular because of the many disadvantages associated with them. Most parents will, no doubt, continue to rely on school boards to provide their children with the best education possible in their community schools.