Today, more charter schools serve children living in cities than in rural areas, but this does not mean that all charter schools are the same. In fact, charter schools are different from one to another and can offer a variety of learning options.
For example, the GreatHearts Academies, with locations in Arizona and Texas, focus their instruction on the classic works of Western literature and philosophy. The school’s mission statement—“To cultivate the minds and hearts of students through the pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty”—is easily accessible on the academies’ websites, along with the list of instructional resources that educators assign to students. Parents value this transparency today, and lawmakers around the country are considering proposals that would require traditional public schools to do the same.
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And parents want schools to teach issues related to character and virtue, like those reflected in the GreatHearts’s motto. According to the results of a nationally representative survey of parents that the Heritage Foundation released in 2021, 83 percent of parents believe their child’s school “should engage with character and virtue.” Even within GreatHearts Academies, though, more than half of the college-bound graduates from this network are pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM). Students at these schools are able to study a variety of course offerings.
Other charter schools focus on STEM. In Denver, educators at the Denver School of Science and Technology (DSST) designed their curriculum around these subjects. DSST has sent all of its graduates to college, even though 70 percent of enrolled students are from disadvantaged backgrounds and qualify for federal meal programs (an indicator of poverty). This success is extraordinary because, on average, Denver students in 4th grade who are eligible for school meals score more than 40 points below their peers on a national comparison of math scores.
Still other charter schools allow students to enroll in high-school and college classes concurrent with high-school coursework. At the Arizona Agribusiness & Equine Center (AAEC), students enroll in local community colleges and earn credit toward a college degree. In Philadelphia, the Boys Latin of Philadelphia charter school offers a college preparatory curriculum for middle and high-school boys in the city.
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This is just a sample of the different charter schools that individuals and community leaders have created to meet the needs of students in their areas. Charter school leaders are empowered to create schools distinct from other options because of flexible options in state charter laws. As explained here, Virginia’s charter law is sorely lacking this flexibility.
Lawmakers can provide students with unique learning options by giving charter school creators the freedom to create schools as unique as they can imagine.
This piece originally appeared in Virginia Works