Charter schools got started in California in the early 1990s. Today, there are more students enrolled in charter schools in L.A. than in any other district in the country.
While charter schools are some of the most talked about types of schools in L.A., there's still a lot of confusion surrounding them. And with so many different types of charter schools out there, it can be tough for families to navigate all the options.
Amy Walia-Fazio with the Parents Education League of Los Angeles joined Take Two to answer some parents' frequently asked questions:
1. What is a charter school?
Charter schools are public schools. They are public schools of choice. The purpose of a charter school is to provide parents, families and students with more choices within the current educational system. So they may increase learning opportunities, they may have special emphasis on academically low performing children, they're ideally supposed to provide new professional opportunities for faculty and staff. The school is responsible for creating its own curriculum.
2. How many charter schools are there in LA?
There are over 200 within the LAUSD zone.
3. I've heard charter schools are a sort of hybrid between public and private schools. Are they still public schools?
They are absolutely public schools. They have an authorizer, and for the most part, we're talking about LAUSD as the authorizer. You can think of them as the overseer of the charter school that actually grants the charter. So every charter school has an actual charter, which is a very large document that outlines how they're going to do what they say they're going to do.
4. How does a charter school differ from a magnet school?
They're completely different. A charter school is designed to provide more autonomy to the actual school, to all teachers in the school, with the purpose of hopefully creating more dynamic teaching and learning. Magnet schools absolutely have a focus, whether it's highly gifted or STEM. They both provide choice, but the way they actually operate on the ground is quite different.
5. What's the difference between an affiliated charter school and an independent charter school?
An affiliated charter is usually your neighborhood school that might have written a charter, and they're still very much affiliated with LAUSD and LAUSD is their governing body. They still abide by the rules and regulations of LAUSD, but the reason for writing their charter was to provide a little bit more autonomy, usually in some of the programming or the curriculum that they provide. Independent charters are schools that really do function separately from LAUSD. An independent charter school has a governing board that is separate from LAUSD.
6. How do you apply to a charter school?
This is where people find that charter schools sound similar to private schools, because every charter school can establish its own admissions practices. The one commonality between all charter schools is that every California charter school is open to any student within the state of California. So they are not governed by attendance zones, for the most part. There are a handful of schools that do offer a priority preference to their residential students.
You really have to find out each school's admissions policy and generally speaking it is the lottery system for charter schools. You fill out the paperwork and then they usually have a public lottery. They roll a little bin and they pull out numbers, the number corresponds to your name, and if your number is called your child has an offer of admission to the charter school.
7. What if you get a really bad lottery number? How competitive is it?
It's really just a numbers game. If the charter school has openings for 100 students, they'll be able to choose 100 students out of their lottery pool. If you have more applicants to the charter than there are spaces, they have to have a system for figuring out their admissions.
The lottery is supposed to be blind, there's not supposed to be preferences, but there can be exceptions. In those cases, their charter will tell you what their preferences are. Some schools do give a residential preference, most schools give a free and reduced-price lunch preference, some give a sibling preference. Another preference, although this is falling out of practice, is for founding parents. If you fall into one of those categories, you might get a slight preference, which means basically that your name is twice in the bowl rather than just once.
8. What should you ask when you visit a charter school?
Some good questions to ask: How long have you been in existence? How long has your head of school or principal been in their position? How many students return year after year to this school? Where do they go when they leave? You should ask about teacher turnover and teacher and staff professional development, especially with independent charter schools which are in charge of their own teacher professional development.
Series: Good Schools
As part of its Good Schools series, Take Two looks at the education landscape in the Los Angeles area. That includes its public schools, magnets, charters, private institutions and dual-language programs. You’ll hear from parents, academics, teachers, kids and even a couple of TV show producers.