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Frequently Asked Questions About Public, Charter Schools

What is a charter school?

A charter school is an independently run public school granted greater flexibility in its operations, in return for greater accountability for performance. The "charter" establishing each school is a performance contract detailing the school's mission, program, students served, performance goals, and methods of assessment.


What is the difference between charter schools and other public schools?

Charter schools are public schools of choice, meaning that families choose them for their children. They operate with freedom from some of the regulations that are imposed upon district schools. Charter schools are accountable for academic results and for upholding the promises made in their charters. They must demonstrate performance in the areas of academic achievement, financial management, and organizational stability. If a charter school does not meet performance goals, it may be closed.


Are charter schools all the same?

No. Charter schools can vary a great deal in their design and in their results. Uncommon Schools creates schools based on the principles and practices that have proven successful in producing significant academic gains at high-performing urban charter public schools across the country.


Who authorizes charter schools?

This varies from state to state, depending on the state's charter law. In New York, there are three authorizers: the New York State Board of Regents, the State University of New York Board of Trustees, and local boards of education. In New Jersey, there is one authorizer, the state Commissioner of Education. In Massachusetts, the authorizer is the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.


Who can start a charter school?

Parents, community leaders, social entrepreneurs, businesses, teachers, school districts, and municipalities can submit a charter school proposal to their state's charter authorizing entity.


Who attends charter schools? Whom do they serve?

Nationwide, students in charter schools have similar demographic characteristics to students in the local public schools. In some states, charter schools serve significantly higher percentages of minority or low-income students than the traditional public schools. Charter schools accept students by random, public lottery.


How are charter schools funded?

As public schools, charter schools are tuition-free. They are funded according to enrollment levels and receive public funds on a per pupil basis. In some states, such as Alaska, Colorado, Minnesota, and New Jersey, they receive less than 100% of the funds allocated to their traditional counterparts for school operations. In other states, such as California, additional funds or loans are made available to them. In most states, charters do not receive capital funds to support facility expenses. Charter schools are entitled to federal categorical funding for which their students are eligible, such as Title I and Special Education monies. Federal legislation provides grants to help charters to manage start-up costs.


What is a charter management organization?

Charter management organizations (CMOs), generally speaking, are organizations that contract with an individual school or schools to deliver management services. These services typically include curriculum development, assessment design, professional development, systems implementation, back-office services, teacher recruitment, and facility services. Uncommon Schools is a nonprofit CMO that contracts with individual charter school boards of trustees. Uncommon's "bottom line" is that each school achieves at the highest level. All decisions are made in the context of what is best for the individual school to ensure student achievement and outstanding academic results.


What makes the schools in Uncommon different from other schools?

Uncommon schools share the following key attributes: a college preparatory mission; high standards for academics and character; a highly structured learning environment; a longer school day and a longer school year; a focus on accountability and data-driven instruction; and a faculty of committed and talented leaders and teachers. Schools within the Uncommon network are modeled on some of the highest-performing urban public charter schools in the country.


How can I enroll my child at an Uncommon School?

Each school admits students through a random lottery. Based on legislation passed in 2007, all New York City charter schools, beginning in the 2008-9 school year, must give preference to students resident in the Community School District (CSD) in which the charter school is located. However, students who reside outside the CSD are eligible to apply and may be admitted if space permits. Please visit the individual school pages to learn more about the enrollment processes for Boston, New York City, Newark, Rochester, and Troy.


Do teachers need to be certified to work at an Uncommon school?

Certification requirements vary on a state-by-state basis. In New Jersey, all teachers must be certified, and Uncommon Schools helps teachers navigate the alternate route process to secure their teaching credentials. In New York, while the state does not require that 100% of teachers be certified at each charter school, the rules under the "No Child Left Behind" Law mean that teachers need to get their licenses with reasonable speed; Uncommon New York City is able to ensure that its teachers are enrolled in a Master's program that provides provisional certification and, more importantly, high quality training. In Massachusetts, charter school teachers must attain Highly Qualified teacher status as dictated by the "No Child Left Behind" Law by possessing a bachelor’s degree and demonstrating subject matter competence in the subjects they teach; Uncommon Boston encourages teachers to get certified and assists them in this process.


Links to More Information on Charter Schools in Massachusetts:


Links to More Information on Charter Schools in New Jersey:


Links to More Information on Charter Schools in New York:


Links to More Information on Charter Schools in the U.S.: