{Guest Post} An Introduction to Charter Schools in San Antonio

Remember my mentioning that we’d have a chance to talk charter schools this month? Help me welcome Inga, will you? She blogs at SACharterMoms.com. For those of you who life outside San Antonio, feel free to ask Inga in the Comments section if you want help identifying national and regional resources.

Thank you, Pamela, for letting me address your audience of intrepid homeschoolers. My name is Inga Munsinger Cotton and I blog at San Antonio Charter Moms, where my friends and I advocate for bringing more high-performing charter schools to San Antonio.

Pamela has written about about how homeschooling is a form of educational entrepreneurship. So true! Charter schools are a form of educational entrepreneurship, too. I want to share with you some of the innovations that successful charter schools are using today. Many will be familiar to homeschoolers.

First, what is a charter school? The technical term is “open enrollment public charter school”. Each charter school system is its own district, authorized by the state, and independent of the geographic boundaries of the school that you are zoned into. Charter schools are public schools, so they are tuition-free. “Open enrollment” means they admit anyone who applies — no admission tests — but if there are too many applicants, they hold a lottery to see who gets in. Read more at the Texas Association for Charter Schools.

The most important feature of charter schools is that they have the freedom to use innovative learning strategies and get amazing results for their students. Since I started blogging at San Antonio Charter Moms, I’ve been fortunate to meet some of these educational entrepreneurs. Here are examples of some of the more successful strategies:

  • Great books curriculum: learn Latin, play chess, and read the great works of Western civilization (Great Hearts Academies, Phoenix, Arizona)
  • Blended learning: combine online, self-directed units with classroom discussion (Rocketship Education, San Jose, California; Carpe Diem Schools, Yuma, Arizona)
  • College readiness: promise “college for all children” (IDEA Public Schools, Weslaco, Texas)
  • Accelerated learning: eight AP credits by 11th grade? Sure! (BASIS Schools, Tucson, Arizona)
  • “No Excuses” philosophy: all students can succeed, regardless of poverty or other social conditions (KIPP, Houston, Texas)

KIPP: San Antonio opened its first campus in 2003; IDEA Carver Academy opened in 2012. Great Hearts and BASIS have applied for charters in Texas and may open in San Antonio as soon as 2013. Choose to Succeed is a movement to bring more high-performing charter schools to San Antonio in the next few years.

Successful charter schools always emphasize parental involvement, but will never be able to replicate the homeschool experience: the bonding for parents and children, the close friendships with fellow homeschoolers, the freedom to do amazing field trips, and so on.

Another important difference with homeschooling: Charter schools are public schools, so they cannot offer spiritual education. They can, however, teach language skills (Latin, Greek, Hebrew, or Arabic) that support spiritual education, and they can allow other organizations to offer after-school programs.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about what’s going on in the entrepreneurial world of charter schools. Inspired? You could always start your own charter school. Perhaps there are other innovations from the world of homeschooling that will be applied to charter schools in the future.

What would you suggest?

Inga Munsinger Cotton blogs at San Antonio Charter Moms. Her son is in kindergarten at a public school and her daughter is in preschool. Besides blogging, she works part-time at her parents’ law firm and likes geeking out with technology. Contact her at mail@sachartermoms.com or via Facebook or Twitter.

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