Charter schools continue to be popular among parents as city recovers from pandemic

How charter schools stack up compared to their district school counterparts. Jan 17, 2023
How do charter schools stack up compared to their district school counterparts?
Pexels/Stanley Morales

New York City has 275 charter schools across all five boroughs, with six new additions from last year. As parents continue to weigh whether or not they should enroll their children in charters — among other countless education issues citywide — it is more important than ever that these 275 schools reflect the needs and requirements of each individual student.

A charter school differs from a traditional public school because charters still receive government funding, but operate outside of the school systems previously established in the geographic area in which the school is located.

This means that charter schools are not as beholden to the sometimes rigid statewide curriculum that is followed in traditional public schools. Instead, charters have the opportunity to explore alternative learning styles in addition to what the state expects to be taught.

“Charter schools are independently-operated public schools that have the freedom to design classrooms that meet their students’ needs,” a statement from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools website reads. “It is common to see charter schools led by former teachers who wanted to take the lessons they learned in the classroom and apply those lessons to an entire school.”

All charter schools are required to operate under a contract with a charter school authorizer, which holds the individual school accountable for the educational standards of their charter. Still, all charter schools are different, with some focusing on subjects relating to STEM education, college prep while others integrate forms of the arts into each subject. 

This ideal of having a charter school emphasize individual skills or subjects is one reason why charters can be so appealing to guardians who want their children to have a more individualized school experience.

“Every day I am inspired by the hard but incredibly joyful work of our teachers and staff to get students back on track from the pandemic and empower them to build a future where they can reach their full potential as learners and as people,” said Jane Martinez Dowling, chief of external affairs at KIPP NYC, a charter school system. “I think what really sets KIPP NYC apart is our commitment to supporting students throughout their lifelong learning journeys – from the moment they step through our doors in kindergarten, through graduation, college, their careers, and beyond to fulfill their potential.”

In the Big Apple, another attractive quality about charter schools is the emphasis of diversity within their student bodies as well with staff and educators.

According to the New York City Charter School Center during the 2022-23 school year, 49% of the student body in the NYC charter school system identified as Black and 41% as Latinx. Additionally, 80% of charter school students are economically challenged, 18% of students are in individualized education programs (IEP), 9.6% live in temporary housing and 9% are multilingual learners.

The NYC charter school system has an estimated population of 142,500 students, with 15% of all NYC public school students attending a charter school.

Recent studies conducted by New York City Charter School Center indicated that in 2022, NYC students attending charter schools scored at higher proficiency rates in both English language arts and mathematics than their district counterparts.

Citywide, Black and Latinx students attending charter schools achieved twice the proficiency rates as their district school peers in math, and scored nearly 20 percentage points higher in English language arts.

Especially as the city heals from the COVID-19 pandemic, parents and guardians look for ways that can help their child have the best opportunities in education, and for some that means enrolling in a charter school.

Some educators involved with the state’s charter programs say that since the schools are seeing higher enrollment rates  and higher general interest especially in response to the pandemic, New York State should respond to the increased demand and lift the current caps on the number of charter schools that can open in a state.

The cap in New York State currently stands at 460 schools, with a smaller-sub cap on NYC.

“Despite the historic challenges of the past three years, charter schools delivered for NYC families – providing a high-quality public education that has set students up for success – no matter where they live in the city,” said James Merriman, CEO of the NYC Charter School Center. “But there is much work still to be done, and the need for opening more seats at great public charter schools have never been higher. All families deserve a choice in where they send their kids to school.”