Although charter schools – which rely mainly on taxpayer funding – are supposed to practice open admissions policies like the public schools they supplement, according to a Reuters report, the reality is quite different. Across the country, there are charters that put into place rigorous admissions policies that take into account not only previous academic record, but also levels of parental involvement and even the child's citizenship. In many cases, these practices continue even if they are in violation of state or federal law.
More than 6,000 charters are currently in operation around the United States. They are publicly funded schools that, unlike public schools, have control over how they're managed and run. The two types of schools are considered in competition with each other, both for students and for money, so charters that can use a tough selection criteria to screen out all but the most promising students would get a leg up over traditional schools that must legally admit anyone within their district.
"I didn't get the sense that was what charter schools were all about – we'll pick the students who are the most motivated? Who are going to make our test scores look good?" said Michelle Newman, whose 8-year-old son lost his seat in an Ohio charter school last fall after he did poorly on an admissions test. "It left a bad taste in my mouth."
Even without an admissions policy, some charters find a way to keep students who are more likely to underperform out of their classes. Reuters found that many of the schools don't offer subsidized lunches and require parents to donate hours of their time every week, or risk their children being kicked out. Such measures are effectively locking out kids from low-income backgrounds – the ones that these kinds of schools were supposed to trying to help.
These kinds of practices seem to go against the very ethos of the charter school and school choice movement. Supporters often use phrases like "open access" when touting the benefits of charters. Frederick Hess, who is the director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute thinks that in reality, charters deliver well short of the "open access" promise.
"There's a level of institutional hypocrisy here which is actually unhealthy," said Hess, who is a strong advocate of charter schools. "It's a strange double game. Charter advocates say, âNo, no, no, we don't believe in (selective admissions),' but when you see a successful charter school, it's filled with families who are a good fit and who want to be there, and that's not possible when you have a random assortment of kids."