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Charter Schools Making the Grade

In the heart of the Rockies, Colorado stands proudly as a beacon of educational excellence, and at the forefront of this achievement are the state’s charter schools. It has been 30 years since the Charter Schools Act was passed by the Colorado Legislature. In this time, we have seen families forgo traditional public schools and flock to charter schools because of the accountability, flexibility, and quality they provide to meet the unique needs of students. Today, nearly 150,000 students attend charter schools in our state. Colorado has garnered attention for fostering one of the most dynamic and successful educational environments in the country–largely due to the innovative contributions of charter schools. The Centennial State is shaping the future of education, and providing very real academic results. 

Second in the Nation for Education
According to a Harvard University academic performance analysis, “Colorado is ranked second in the nation for charter school student achievement.” While Colorado wasn’t the first state to implement charter schools into their school board, they have outperformed the national charter school average by 24 percent, second only to the state of Alaska. In 2022, charter school students in grades 3-8 fared better on literacy and math tests than students in public schools run by districts, with 37 percent of charter school students—compared with 31 percent of traditional public school students–meeting or exceeding grade-level benchmarks. In math, more than 31 percent of charter school students met or exceeded grade-level benchmarks compared to 27 percent from public district-run schools. 

In addition, students from elementary, middle, and high schools attending charter schools demonstrated higher levels of academic achievement in both English language arts and math, compared to children at district-run schools. From a report from the Colorado Department of Education’s 2019 State of Charter Schools Triennial Report, “Students consistently outperformed students from non-charter schools in English language arts and math exams.” Furthermore, charter school students showed above-average performance on PSAT and SAT evidence-based reading, writing, and math exams than their peers at district-managed schools.

Leading the Path to Diversity
While charter schools have been seen as adjacent to district-managed public schools, the charter school model is extremely flexible and adaptable to the needs of its school communities. Typically, charter schools are born from the inherent need for a high-quality public school alternative that both families and communities recognize the need for. They are more accountable but are flexible in terms of staffing, budgeting, and academic curriculum. 

Despite common misconceptions, Colorado public charter schools serve a diverse student body. Recent data demonstrates that “compared to non-charter schools statewide, Colorado charters serve higher percentages of both students of color and English language learners.” Furthermore, Colorado charter schools have shown they are narrowing the gap for students from marginalized communities. 

Proven Growth
Colorado’s charter schools show great results from overall academic growth. The emphasis on tailored learning approaches, coupled with the autonomy granted to these institutions, has allowed for the implementation of effective teaching methods that resonate with diverse student needs. According to a report from the Keystone Policy Center, “61 percent of charters demonstrated a median growth percentile (MGP) of 50 or above in English Language Arts. An MGP of 50 indicates that, on average, students in a school performed as well or better than 50 percent of their academic peers (students who have had similar assessment scores in past years). By contrast, 49 percent of district-run schools serving grades 3-8 had an MGP of 50 or above in ELA.” The report concludes, “In math, 57 percent of charter schools had an MGP or 50 or better, compared to 52 percent of district-managed schools.”

Overcoming Obstacles
Due to the pandemic in 2020, Colorado charter schools have been in recovery mode for the past three years. Academically, students have been continuously showing improvement and showcasing remarkable test scores. Given the challenges that come with operating schools these days—staffing, budgeting, enrollment, politics, etc.—it can be easy to focus on the impending problems in the school’s community. However, time and time again, Colorado charter schools have proven their results and shown that they can provide students and families with the high-quality educational opportunities they need. Although these challenges have highlighted areas of improvement for Colorado charter school representatives, they haven’t diminished the remarkable benefits students have delivered through outstanding academic performances. 

As parents, we must strive for the highest standards when it comes to our children’s education. The state of Colorado and our children’s future depends on it. 

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