Today the National Center for Education Statistics released a First Look at the characteristics of public schools in the U.S. using data gathered by the 2015-16 National Teachers and Principal Survey. This is a nationally representative survey that includes samples for both public charter and traditional public schools. And, like the two previous releases of data from this survey, the results suggest that charter schools and traditional public schools serve similar percentages of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch (50 percent) and students with disabilities (10 percent vs. 12 percent for charter schools and traditional public schools, respectively). Further, nearly every public school (99 percent), both charter and traditional, serves at least one student with an individualized education plan (IEP), while about three-quarters (72 percent for charter schools and 77 percent for traditional public schools) serve at least one student who is an English language learner.
But let’s look at what the data tell us about where public charter schools and traditional public schools diverge. Nearly 17 percent of charter schools are alternative schools, compared to just 5 percent of traditional schools. This means that over one-quarter of all alternative schools in the U.S. are charter schools. Also, higher percentages of charter schools offer instruction beyond the normal school day for students who need academic assistance when compared to traditional public schools (65 percent vs. 59 percent) and for students who seek academic advancement or enrichment (50 percent vs. 43 percent).
What I find to be particularly interesting is that charter schools seem to be customizing their staffing to meet the needs of students at higher rates than traditional public schools. The figure below shows the percentage of schools that have the following staff (all differences are statistically significant other than reading coaches). Clearly, charter schools are staffing up in the STEM fields.
Figure 1 – Percentage of schools with specialist/coaches by subject and school type
In fact, of the nearly 25,000 data coaches and coordinators employed by public schools in the U.S. in 2015-16, about 12 percent were employed by charter schools, even though they are only 6 percent of public schools. By tailoring their school hours and staffing to meet student needs, charter schools are leading the way in providing personalized learning over the one-size-fits-all strategy.