No child is the same. Every child has their own set of skills and interests and learns at their own pace. As such, children can benefit from a curriculum tailored to their specific needs, and, oftentimes, traditional schools designed for everyone are unable to meet those needs.
Charter schools offer a solution. Unlike traditional schools, charter schools offer special curriculum with specific goals, giving families choices in what and how their children should learn. A debate has emerged, however, on whether Georgia should be building more charter schools as opposed to ensuring the quality of the schools. The State Charter Schools Commission has come under fire for its high standards in assessing charter schools. Detractors say that the commission is limiting charter schools’ growth.
Though the desire to offer a plethora of choices to meet every student’s individual needs is admirable, the State Charter Schools Commission is ultimately correct in applying stringent demands on charter schools applying for funding.
Charter schools can be effective in their goals, but the results vary widely between schools. According to a study conducted by the National Center for Educational Evaluation and Regional Assistance, charter middle schools had no effect on students’ math and reading scores on average. However, there was great variance between the charter schools’ performance. In fact, the charter middle schools in urban areas and serving lower-income and low achievement students boasted statistically significantly higher test scores, suggesting that charter schools are effective under the right conditions.
I should know. I was fortunate enough to go to The Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology, a school that operated on a charter until the 2016-2017 school year. The school offered a rigorous STEM-focused curriculum, and I believe it prepared me for college more than a traditional high school would have. In addition, based on data from the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, GSMST offers a strong education for its sizable economically disadvantaged population (32% of its total population), mirroring the data from the National Center for Educational Evaluation and Regional Assistance.
Not all charter schools are as effective as GSMST, however. In fact, many are struggling to deliver on their promise of a high quality education. Georgia Cyber Academy, for example, has so far struggled to achieve high academic results, and its charter may not be renewed. The uncertainty over Georgia Cyber Academy’s future has threatens the education of 10,000 Georgia children, highlighting how low quality educational standards could hurt children and families.
At their best, charter schools can give students and families options for how the education path they want. But simply building more charter schools is not the answer. Georgia should refrain from recklessly approving more charter schools and instead invest in a few, high quality charter schools to ensure they offer Georgians strong educational options.