Compass Charter Schools Shares Charter Schools History

By March 17, 2021 Blog

This week Compass Charter Schools staff are attending the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) Virtual Conference to learn more about empowering our charter schools. Compass Charter Schools and CCSA know that “one-size-fits-all” doesn’t work when it comes to education. Our school offers the personal attention, creativity, and passionate teaching that help scholars succeed. Charter public schools are free from bureaucratic restrictions and red tape that gets between scholars, teachers, and learning. In exchange, our schools are held to high-performance standards. What began as a small experiment in 1993 when 29 charter schools opened in California has grown into a significant alternative system within California’s K-12 public schools, with more than 1,200 schools serving more than 600,000 students. This year marks the 29th year of the charter school movement.

The original intent of charter schools in California was to improve student learning while encouraging different and innovative teaching methods and creating new professional opportunities for educators. Charter schools developed at the local site level and with the full participation of all “stakeholders,” including educators, school board members, parents, guardians, and other community members. These “laboratories of innovation” were meant to try new pedagogical approaches on a small scale. Methodologies that worked could then be imported to traditional districts as part of our collective efforts to provide quality education to all California students.

The first charter school law passed in Minnesota in 1991. California followed suit the following year, thanks to former California State Senator Gary K. Hart. Senator Hart was a teacher before he became a politician. He chaired California’s Senate Education Committee from 1983 until his retirement in 1994. Hart joined Take Two to discuss the origins of the charter school movement in California.


On the need for charter schools in California

“There was a lot of debate, a lack of enthusiasm for what was going on in the schools. Too many laws, too much bureaucracy. And we would hear these types of complaints time and time again, so we were struggling to figure out ways that we could try to improve the system to respond to these concerns.”

On how he sold the idea for a charter school law

“The way I explained it was, having a great deal more freedom than in a public school. Unlike a private school with an enormous amount of freedom, there would be certain steps that you couldn’t cross over. Those would be that you couldn’t charge tuition, you couldn’t discriminate, you couldn’t teach religion for sectarian purposes. But with those exceptions, what we were attempting to do was to give local communities much greater freedom as to how they went about establishing their educational goals and objectives and how they went about accomplishing those objectives.”

On why the charter school movement has taken off so strongly

“I think in part, many people continue to be dissatisfied with the existing traditional public schools, and they have seen that there are many charter schools that seem to be working well, and there’s a different way to go. I think also there are organizations, particularly some foundations, that have provided start-up funds to many charter schools.”

On charter schools that have failed

“There have been failures of charters schools, and the issues that you raised bout disruption for parents as schools have to relocate, and sometimes schools close down, those are real challenges that exist. So I have never viewed charters as a panacea, as a magic bullet. I don’t think that charter status is appropriate for all students and all communities, but I think it’s an important option. I think there have been some valuable lessons about some of the things that charter schools do that have some merit that other traditional public schools ought to take a careful look at.”

Unfortunately, as charter schools expanded in California, many departed from this original vision. Increasingly, charter schools operate by large charter management organizations (CMOs), meaning essential decisions are frequently made without sufficient oversight and far from the school communities they are intended to serve.

Now there is a movement to change this and return to the original vision. The movement is led by charter educators throughout the state who are unionizing to have a stronger voice in decisions that impact their scholars and profession. It is driven by educators, community members, and scholars working to ensure that charter schools are transparent, accountable, and serve our communities.  

At Compass, we always strive to provide the highest quality of both personalized and virtual learning. Our credentialed teachers and staff’s mission is to inspire and develop innovative, creative, self-directed learners, one scholar at a time.



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