As parents try to decide whether to move their children to a charter school, they often seek to compare the similarities and differences between these schools and traditional schools. In some cases, educators, politicians, and even media also seek to make comparisons between the two schools as well. There are several ways to compare the two, including the following:
- Research Data-Depending upon the school system and the length of time a charter school has been open, there may be some research data available for people to peruse. The majority of data regarding this subject has typically been gathered through questionnaires and surveys that have been filled out on a strictly voluntary basis. How accurate is this data? The answer really depends on how the data was gathered and assessed. Because charter schools are relatively new in many states, basing a decision entirely upon research data may be misleading.
- School Populations-When comparing traditional and charter schools, school populations should also be considered as a prominent comparison factor. Parents, administrators and educators should consider the socioeconomics of the student body as well as the ratio of males and females in each charter school in comparison to the socioeconomics and gender of nearby traditional facilities.
- Academic Achievements-Academic standards and achievements can be difficult to track without using a set standard of criteria. While overall grade point averages (GPAs) can always be considered, very often standardized achievement test results are used as indicators for a school's success. Care must be taken when using this type of comparison, however, especially if the socioeconomics between a traditional and charter school greatly differ. In some cases, the results are issued over a set period of time, and students are tracked not only according to their initial test results but also regarding their improvement or decline in specific areas of study.
- Special Education Services-The laws governing special education continue to demand stricter documentation and interpretation. Because of this, some charter schools may not offer as many services and/or certified faculty due to lack of funds. In other words, while no public school can discriminate concerning the enrollment of students, a school may not be able to provide adequate facilities and/or instruction for those students labeled as special needs.
- Accessibility-In some cases, those families who rely heavily on public transportation may feel discouraged regarding the accessibility of a charter school, and this is another area of comparison with traditional schools. For those public schools which offer bus services, a charter school may not compare as favorably, especially for those families who are poor or considered a minority.
- Student/Teacher Ratio-Student/teacher ratios typically factor into comparisons made between charter and traditional schools. While charter schools may be smaller in size, the faculty may also be smaller, and this could affect rates of comparison as well.
- Certified Staff-Finally, when making comparisons between traditional and charter schools, the ratio of certified staff should be looked at as well. In some cases, a charter staff may not employ all certified personnel, a point that is often associated with private institutions. With laws such as "No Child Left Behind," however, this issue must be addressed in order to ensure that all schools are in compliance with federal education requirements.