Charter schools are independently operated public schools. While they do receive state and federal funding, charter schools are not bound by statutes, rules, and regulations surrounding budget management, staffing, and curricula that govern traditional public schools. Despite having this freedom, however, charter schools are still required to hold to the same academic accountability measures as traditional public schools.
In other words, charter schools and traditional public schools must cross the same finish line, but charter schools have the opportunity to take a different route.
We provide more information on charter schools regarding the difference between a charter school and a magnet school. Also, if you're still on the fence about tackling charter school opportunities, take a look at our article which focuses on deciding between a public, private, or charter school career.
Why you should teach in a charter school
Becoming a charter school teacher can seem like a breath of fresh air if you have grown tired of the traditional school setting with large class sizes and minimal freedom. In Perspective, an initiative charged with enlightening and improving conversations about charter schools in the U.S., reports some very useful key facts that can help you decide on teaching at a charter school.
Flexibility. Charter schools are typically exempt from select state and district rules and regulations. This provides more flexibility for teaching styles, schedules, extra-curricular activities, grading, and other school rules.
Smaller class sizes (sometimes). Research shows that smaller class sizes have better outcomes for lower grades and charter schools are experimenting with this by limiting their class size. In 2013-14, only 5 percent of all public school students attended charter schools, which leaves room for management of class sizes. If this is important to you, you can prioritize by searching for charter schools in your area with this practice.
Innovative practices. A study revealed the innovation in various states across the nation. Some practices included performance-based teacher raises, unique licensure and hiring practices, extended classes, mixed-age student groupings, and as already mentioned, smaller class sizes.
Chance to make a difference. You can quickly identify children who are living in poverty is by looking at the student eligibility for free breakfast and lunch under the National School Lunch Program. According to the U.S. Department of Education, more charter school kids qualify for free breakfast and lunch than traditional public school kids. This, along with the fact that charter schools have a higher percentage of minority students, means you can reach more kids with higher needs in a charter school than in a traditional public school.
We do note that some charter schools have been under scrutiny in past years and are sometimes accused of being mismanaged. However, just like some private colleges, you will always have some bad apples. It's important to focus on the the intent and center around the charter school concept, which is that educators and administrators have more freedom and flexibility to be innovative with teaching methods so they can foster an efficient and effective learning environment. Some charter schools develop curriculum focused on scientific concepts, like the Washington Mathematics Science Technology Public Charter High School in Washington, DC, while others focus on visual and performing arts, like the Renaissance Arts Academy in Los Angeles, CA. Charter schools are typically founded by teachers, parents, and people in the community who want to make a difference in children's lives.
Charter school teaching requirements
Do charter school teachers have to be certified? Yes and no. States that allow charter schools have their own laws and regulations surrounding charter school teacher requirements. The National Education Association reports that there 44 states and the District of Columbia have state charter school laws. While some states, such as California and Florida require the same teaching certifications as traditional public schools, others, such as Texas and Arizona, do not. The Education Commission of the States provides a really useful chart that shows an overview of the charter school requirements for teachers, by state.
Teaching at a charter school vs. a traditional public school
During the 2011-12 school year, the U.S. Department of Education's report on the characteristics of public and private elementary and secondary teachers reported that there were approximately 3.4 million public school teachers, and only 116,000 of those were teaching in a charter school.
Non-traditional teacher profile. The report indicated that charter school teachers tend to be younger and newer in the workforce. Many have just entered the field of education, are new in their career and have not completed a master's degree. The report also concluded that public schools tend to have less minority teachers than charter schools.
Longer hours. You can also expect to work slightly longer hours at a charter school. The 2011-12 data also indicates that charter school teachers worked approximately 53.5 hours per week, whereas traditional public school teachers worked 52.2 hours per week.
Special needs investment. Teachers who worked in charter schools spent more time than traditional public school teachers in professional development training courses regarding teaching students with disabilities and teaching limited-English proficient students or English language learners.
Charter school teacher salary vs. public school
According to Indeed, which has almost 70,000 charter, public, and private school teaching jobs posted across the country, charter school teachers are paid more than public and private school teachers. On average, charter school teachers in the U.S. are paid $44,000 per year, while public and private school teachers are paid $41,000 and $30,000, respectively. We do note that this could be slightly skewed, because charter schools tend to be in cities, where the cost of living is higher.
Top Areas for Charter School Teachers
Some of the top areas for charter school teaching opportunities include New York City, California, Florida, Texas, and the Boston area.
Teaching in a New York City charter school
According to the New York City Charter School Center, there are 227 charter schools, with 47,800 students on a charter school wait list. Currently, 77 percent of charter school students are economically disadvantaged. There is a huge market and opportunity in New York City to expand their charter schools and really having an influence on children in the area. New York City charter schools are measured by results, and they are leading in widening the proficiency gap. In the 2016-17 school year, New York City charter schools exceeded traditional districts in math and and English Language Arts standards. You can search for schools and jobs at New York City Charter School Center's website. A credential is required to teach at a New York City charter school, but there are a few exceptions, which are specified here.
Teaching in a California charter school
California became the second state in the U.S. to adopt legislation that authorized charter schools. According to the California Department of Education, the golden state has approximately 982 active charter schools and eight all-charter school districts. Some charter schools have developed partnerships with other public agencies, such as the California Conservation Corps, which is an organization that provides young men and women the opportunity to participate in one year of paid service to the State of California. For those participants who do not have a high school diploma, they are required to attend the on-site charter school. In California, a teaching credential is required for core subject teachers, but there is some flexibility for non-core and non-college-preparatory courses.
Teaching in a Florida charter school
According to the Florida Department of Education, Florida has over 650 charter schools with 283,000 students, and enrollment in charter schools has steadily increased since they started in 1996. The state's Student Achievement report regarding Florida charter schools indicates that 55 percent of all charter school children received either an A or B grade in the 2015-16 school year, while traditional public schools only landed at 46 percent. Florida charter schools also outranked traditional public schools in mathematics and English language arts standardized tests. In Florida, a teaching credential is required to be a teacher at a charter school.
Teaching in a Texas charter school
There are 675 Texas charter schools educating 273,000 students. The Texas Charter Schools Association began in 2008 to strengthen and support a diverse set of effective, public charter schools, and their State of the Sector Report indicates there is a lot of work to be done. Texas Senate Bill 2, closed over 10 percent of the charter schools, which were underperforming, and promised to open and expand effective charter schools. However, as of the 2016 report, this had not happened, and there is currently a waitlist of over 141,000 students waiting to get a charter school seat. In Texas, a teaching credential is not required, however, bilingual/English language learner and special education teachers in charter schools are required to be credentialed.
Teaching in a Boston area charter school
Authorized by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts' Education Reform Act of 1993, Massachusetts began implementing charter schools. The Massachusetts Charter Public School Association reports that the initial experiment started with 15 schools serving 2,500 students and has now grown to 70 charter schools (with 13 of them being in Boston) serving a total of 44,000 students. Boston Magazine published a list of the best charter schools in the greater Boston area and two-thirds of the schools listed have a graduation rate of above 90 percent. If you are interested in taking on the Boston charter school scene, we note that a teaching credential is required.