For many people, the concept of a charter school is still new and unfamiliar, but these schools share a lot of commonalities with traditional public schools. We hosted “The Great Debate: Exploring the Role of Charter Schools in Memphis” on Tuesday, November 13 in an effort to create space for learning, transparency, and open dialogue. With a packed room and panel of four education leaders, the discussion taught us many things.
First, we all learned that charter schools are, in fact, public schools and are subject to the same academic standards, performance and accountability measures, laws, and teacher certifications as traditional schools. School charters are reviewed for renewal every five years, and schools that do not meet expectations or do not serve their students well can be shut down. Another similarity is that, like traditional schools, enrollment in charter schools is zoned by address, although parents can choose to enroll their children in a different charter school, if desired.
Charter schools likewise share many of the same challenges that traditional schools face, primarily the struggle for adequate funding and the general shortage of talented teachers. In addition, all schools must deal with the social and economic realities of the communities that they serve and must find ways to address the related issues and needs of their students.
In general terms, charter schools and traditional schools are more alike than different. Yet, charter schools are a growing phenomenon. 112 public charter schools serve students across Tennessee; 78 of those are in Memphis. What function do charter schools serve that traditional schools do not?