On paper charter schools look a lot like public schools. They receive public money, are reviewed and regulated by the state, and do not charge tuition. But unlike public schools, charters have a degree of freedom in setting their curriculum. This independence has made a rapidly growing number of American families enroll their children in charter schools. In 2011 the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools reported that two million students attend charter schools.
Charter schools may be popular, but they are not always effective. Their autonomy from state-mandated education methods means they can look to alternative and innovative ways to teach their students. These novel approaches do not always work and sometimes lead to charter school’s performing poorly as compared to regular public schools. According to a Stanford University study published in 2009, only 17 percent of charter school students performed better than their public school counterparts. Meanwhile, 37 percent of them did “significantly worse.”
Given the varying success of charter schools, it’s important to be picky when deciding where to enroll your kids. To help, US News & World Report has compiled a list of the Best Charter Schools in America. They ranked them by examining their students’ college readiness and test proficiency.
Click through the gallery to learn what makes these 10 the best charter schools in America.
(Photo: P.E. Reed)
10. University High School: Fresno, California
University High School functions very much like a small college. The school is made up of several smaller schools, such as the School of Engineering and the School for Advanced Studies. The high school is also very diverse; 437 students are enrolled and 41 percent of them are minorities. The school’s mission is “education for the 21st century.” They aim to use the most up-to-date educational practices to further their students’ learning. They also offer over twenty Advanced Placement courses.
(Photo: University High School)
9. Lennox Mathematics, Science and Technology Academy: Lennox, California
Lennox Mathematics, Science and Technology Academy (LMST) is one school that definitely takes advantage of its charter classes. Unlike many traditional high schools, there is a strong emphasis on individualized, hands-on learning. Juniors and seniors are required to do internships; to that end, they are assigned mentors who help them find an area of study that most interests them. Community service and field trips are common for the lower grades. To graduate, seniors must complete a senior thesis and apply to at least two colleges. Of their 535 students, 100 percent of them are minorities.
(Photo: Kris Timken)
8. The Preuss School UCSD: La Jolla, California
The Preuss School is tailored to help low-income, minority students prepare for college. There is a large focus on “tutor-assisted teaching.” Teachers focus on creating a community, with an emphasis on teamwork, to help their students do well. The Preuss School is doing something right, as shown by their stellar graduation rates. In 2011, 95 percent of the senior class, around 100 students, were accepted into a four-year college or university, including Brown, Duke, Harvard, and Johns Hopkins.
(Photo: The Preuss School)
7. Roseland University Prep: Santa Rosa, California
Roseland University Prep is another charter with a big focus on college readiness. Like Preuss, the school serves mostly low-income students. One of the major tenets of Roseland University Prep is an emphasis on a “small learning environment.” Around 350 students are enrolled in the high school, but the average class size is only twenty-two. Parent involvement is a priority at Roseland. For example, classes on the complicated college process are offered to parents through Roseland’s Parent University.
(Photo: Digital Vision)
6. Westlake Academy: Westlake, Texas
Westlake Academy is run a little bit like Hogwarts, but with less magic and more top-notch academics. Westlake has a house system to stimulate school spirit and teamwork – all students are sorted into houses (named after famous people, such as Helen Keller and Henry David Thoreau) with extensive advisor programs. Westlake is also an International Baccalaureate school. This means they follow an IB curriculum and their students complete all tests, extended essays, and community service requirements as specified by the IB program.
(Photo: Westlake Academy)
5. Signature School: Evansville, Indiana
Signature is not only one of the top-ranked charter schools in America, it is the number one high school in Indiana. In many ways Signature functions as a traditional high school, albeit with small class sizes (the average is 20 students per class). Signature offers both Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs. The students definitely take advantage of both of them: 100 percent of the 326 students are enrolled in advanced classes. The school does not focus solely on academics, however; last year students racked up a collective 10,546 community service hours.
4. Northcoast Preparatory and Performing Arts Academy: Arcata, California
Northcoast is an International Baccalaureate school with a very international focus. The high school believes “global awareness and international experiences” are integral to successful learning. To combine this focus on travel with their stress on performing arts, students at Northcoast put on many international festivals and concerts. In the past they have gone to Japan, Ghana, Scandinavia, Thailand, and Indonesia. The school’s mission statement proclaims their “belief in a true liberal arts education for high school students.”
(Photo: Ryan McVay)
3. Sturgis Charter Public School: Hyannis, Massachusetts
Like many of the other top 10 charter schools, Sturgis is an IB school. Unlike the others, Sturgis is exclusively IB, as in it offers no non-IB classes. The school believes IB courses are the best way to “ensure college readiness.” Their methods are working: US News gave them a 100.0 on the College Readiness Index. But even at Sturgis it isn’t all IB, all the time. They have a sister school in Honduras, the American School of Tegucigalpa, and they stress the importance of community service.
(Photo: Charter Newsline)
2. Pacific Collegiate School: Santa Cruz, California
Number two in the list of top charter schools, Pacific is not your average high school. Not only do students at the school strive for—and achieve—academic excellence, they must take Advanced Placement courses, become fluent in foreign language, and complete at least 20 hours of community service. As it says in the mission statement: “Pacific Collegiate School will emphasize international, cross- cultural, and technological education in order to prepare graduates for life in the 21st Century.”
(Photo: Kronholm, Susanne)
1. BASIS Tucson: Tucson, Arizona
Coming in at number one, BASIS Tucson offers its students “an academically excellent and rigorous liberal arts” education. BASIS serves students from the 5th through 12th grades. Fifth and 6th graders learn Latin, while the older students are required to take a romance language. Other classes offered are Kenpo, creative writing, and Mandarin. In addition to academics, there is an importance placed on individual responsibility. For example, homework is never posted online because students are responsible for writing the assignment down when it is announced in class. Students are expected to take challenging classes, but they are given the infrastructure to learn how to succeed. As early as 5th grade, kids are taught how to study and schedule their time. BASIS students can graduate in three years, or stay on for a fourth year to take capstone courses or complete a senior thesis.
Jenna Shapiro is a high school senior in New York City who is passionate about writing and environmental issues. She has previously worked with EcoLogic Solutions. In her free time she can be found reading, biking, or walking her adorable dogs!