Homeschools and charter schools take very different approaches to educating children. While they are both alternatives to standard public school education, They have different focuses. Homeschools focus on educating children in a family setting. Charter schools focus on educating students in a nontraditional way, within a set-up similar to a public school.
In fact, charter schools are a special form of public school, designated as alternative schools by the United States Department of Education. They can be elementary or secondary, but unlike other public schools, they operate in accordance with a specially prepared charter granted by either the state legislature or another legally designated authority. The charter school may either be administered by a regular public school district, or alternatively, it may be overseen by a chartering organization or a state education agency. But a charter school’s focus must be on students whose needs are not met in “regular” public schools, while not being a special education or vocational education school.
Charter schools are available in 40 states and the District of Columbia. States without any charter school options are Alabama and Kentucky in the South; Maine and Vermont in the New England; West Virginia in Appalachia, Montana and Washington in the Western United States, and Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota in the Midwest. In addition, charter schools tend to be located in or near big cities, so although there are more than 4,500 charter schools nationwide as of fall, 2008, the location of the charter schools and your location may not make them a viable option.
The states that had the greatest number of charter schools in 2006 were Arizona, California, Florida, Ohio, and Texas. To find charter schools in your state, you can try several different sources:
- “Find a Charter School Today” is available at the edreform.com website: edreform.com/charter_schools/maps/
- “Search for Public Schools” is available at the National Center for Education Statistics website: http://nces.ed.gov/ccd/schoolsearch/
In addition, a charter school may have an admissions policy built into its charter. This admissions policy often is limited only to a geographic region and grade levels. But charter schools can be oversubscribed, and admission is not guaranteed to all applicants. A homeschool, of course, is an available option in any location by following state law and deciding to create one. However, who can be educated at a homeschool is a matter of state law. For example, there may be limits on whether or how many children outside the homeschooling family can participate in the school. For more information, see your state’s education department website.
While homeschools are conducted in most cases by a parent, charter schools are taught by licensed professionals, including classroom teachers and support staff. There are, of course, homeschooling parents who hold an education degree, but this is the exception. What parents characteristically bring to the homeschooling situation is intimate knowledge of their child, whereas charter school employees bring professional training and expertise in their field.
Schedule and Location
While the non-traditional nature of charter schools may mean that they use more inventive or different scheduling than regular public schools, they are still operating within the strictures of a defined school day in a way that homeschoolers do not have to. They also share with other public schools the basic commitment to educating in a specific location (the school) on most occasions, whereas homeschoolers have the flexibility to educate anywhere they may be, including a beach in Hawaii or on a Peace Corps mission to Kazakhstan.
While one would expect charter schools to have exceptional resources in their area of focus, homeschoolers can potentially meet such needs, as well as address the needs of children who excel in multiple areas. For example, the charter school that focuses on multiple languages, would likely have language labs, computers, and software to focus on the needs of that curriculum. But they wouldn’t necessarily have exceptional resources for a student who is both fluent in Modern Greek and wants to play ice hockey. Homeschooling may provide an opportunity to meet the needs of a child who has multi-faceted interests and talents in the best possible way.
Socialization and Activities
Charter schools offer the same types of benefits as other public schools in providing students with opportunities for socialization with peers and large-scale activities, such as instrumental and vocal music ensembles, theater productions, and team sports. And on the other side, homeschools focus on socialization within the family and through the family’s activities, which can be extended through part-time enrollment in a public or private school, participation in public or private school activities, or memberships in arts organizations, gyms, and other extracurricular activities that bring groups of young people together to engage in various pursuits.