A Charter School Topology: Descriptions of Charter School Legislation, Characteristics, and Outcomes in the State of Texas
Charter schools have recently become a popular vehicle for urban school reform. The historical and ideological roots of the charter school movement are presented below. Charter schools are not a federal policy; rather, states must pass their own charter school legislation. As a result, charter schools can vary extensively from state-to-state. Thus, this writing will focus on a single state’s charter school legislation. The birth and evolution Texas charter school legislation, how it has played out in reality, and the outcomes that have resulted will be discussed. Texas charter school legislation emerged from the intersection of the accountability, decentralization, and neoliberalism reform movements. After a number of revisions, four categories of charter schools remain: home-rule, open-enrollment, campus, and university charter schools. Originally considered to offer considerable autonomy to charters, Texas legislation has evolved and now offers less autonomy. The majority of charter schools in Texas are open-enrollment charter schools. In general, charter schools are smaller and younger than their traditional counterparts. They also receive less funding. Charter schools are more likely to serve “at-risk” students, low-income students, and students of color. Teachers at charter schools have less experience, are more likely to be people of color, and have a higher turnover rate than their counterparts at traditional public schools. Curriculum and instruction can be more innovative at charter schools, but a substantial number of charter schools do not identity such innovation in their missions. Two outcomes of the charter school movement discusses below are student “achievement” and influence on traditional public schools. Campus charter schools are outperforming traditional public schools on standardized achievement tests, but open-enrollment charter schools are lagging behind. Both types of charter schools are behind their peers in graduation and advanced course completion rates. One study indicates that high concentrations of charter schools are increasing student achievement in traditional public schools.