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What’s the Difference Between Charter Schools and Alternative Schools?

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    What’s the Difference Between Charter Schools and Alternative Schools?

    CCA student and teacher looking at a laptop

    When you hear the word “alternative,” you think you know what it means. A choice. A better way forward. For parents who know that traditional schooling just isn’t serving their child, it offers hope.

    However, when parents start doing their research, “alternative” suddenly shatters into a kaleidoscope of confusing choices. Just how many alternative schooling options are there? Are alternative schools public or private? Are alternative schools charter schools? What are the advantages and disadvantages of alternative schools vs. charter schools?

    It might seem daunting, but there’s no reason to become discouraged. Once you learn the range of alternative schooling options out there and the choices available in charter schools, the right school for your child will become apparent. 

    Table of contents:

    What Is a Charter School?

    As the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools puts it, “Charter schools are independently-operated public schools that have the freedom to design classrooms that meet their students’ needs.”

    Charter schools have the freedom to better serve students and families. Their rejection of rigid, conventional ideas about schooling means that they conform to families, not the other way around. 

    Charter schools get their authority to operate – their “charter” – from state and local education authorities. They are public schools, beholden to state educational standards and testing, but how they deliver learning is up to them. They are run by trustees or boards of directors who determine curriculum and school culture. With their roots in dissatisfaction with traditional schooling, they are student-focused.

    Some charter schools deliver a comprehensive array of core and elective courses. Others enhance basic education with a focus on a particular area, such as college prep, STEM, world languages or the arts.

    When charter schools first became popular in the 1980s, they were brick-and-mortar institutions. Since then, the digital age has fostered the creation of cyber charter schools. Cyber charter schools are public schools chartered by state education officials to deliver learning via computer. They follow the same rules for standards and testing applied to brick-and-mortar charter schools.

    For families, cyber charters offer liberation from the constraints of brick-and-mortar school schedules and climates. Children do their lessons from the safety of their homes, at a pace that suits their learning styles. Parents know what their children are doing and learning throughout the day.

    Learn More About Cyber Charter School

    What Are Alternative Schools?

    Charter schools count as alternative schools because they offer a choice from traditional learning offered by public school districts. Other types of learning also fall under the alternative-schools umbrella. They include:

    • Magnet schools. Magnet schools are free public schools that concentrate on a particular field. Often, they attract students gifted and talented in such areas as STEM, the arts or leadership. As havens of higher-order learning and discipline, they often have waiting lists and award enrollment by lottery.
    • Traditional private schools. Private schools do not receive government funding, which gives them the freedom to operate according to their own beliefs and philosophies. Some turn traditional classrooms inside out, letting students self-direct their learning or collaborate across grade levels. Private schools charge tuition fees, although some families receive scholarships.
    • Religious schools. Religious schools are a type of private school associated with a faith community. Within these schools, “parochial” schools are those supported by a particular congregation. In religious schools, learning is infused with faith principles, although enrollees don’t always have to be of that faith. As private schools, most parochial schools charge tuition, but scholarships might be available.
    • Montessori and Waldorf schools. These private, tuition-charging schools tap into children’s instincts to learn by doing. Montessori classes are established in three-year cohorts and steeped in hands-on learning. Waldorf schools stress emotional development that engages imagination in the early years.
    • Private special education schools. Often, traditional schools are ill-equipped to address the needs of children with autism, ADHD and other learning differences. Private, tuition-charging special education schools have deep expertise and train staff on the complex approaches needed to help children grow in learning and socialization.
    • Public alternative schools. Within state public school systems, there may be schools established for students with physical disabilities, behavioral challenges or severe emotional issues. Public alternative schools are tuition-free and typically deliver individualized learning.  

    Alternative Schools vs Charter Schools — What’s the Difference?

    Now that you know the range of options, it’s time to delve into the differences between charter and alternative schools. Consider how they stack up against each other:

    • Tuition. In a perfect world, money is no object when it comes to our children’s education. However, this is the real world, where household budgets drive many important decisions. In the U.S., private schooling costs from $4,000 to $25,000 a year – or an astronomical $40,000 at boarding schools. Families can find excellent, and tuition-free, options among the charter schools available to them.
    • Educational standards. Charter schools must adhere to state academic standards. Yes, this means that students take standardized tests, but today’s charter schools avoid “teaching to the test.” They use standards as guidance for building a strong foundation of academic basics, while instilling comprehension and intellectual curiosity in their students. Private schools might or might not focus on those academic basics that form the foundation of lifetime achievement and accomplishment.
    • State-certified teachers. As public schools, charter schools in many states, including Pennsylvania, must hire highly qualified, state-certified teachers. Teachers’ credentials prepare them to deliver developmentally appropriate learning, while continuing education helps them keep pace with their subject matter and trends in learning. Private alternative schools are not required to hire teachers according to strict standards of qualifications and certifications.
    • Cyber learning. Cyber schooling is revolutionizing education, but only cyber charter schools offer tuition-free learning that breaks free from the constraints of traditional brick-and-mortar schools. Many school districts offer free, high-quality cyber learning options, but for a number of families these programs come with the same bureaucracy and baggage they’re trying to escape. Cyber charter schools offer personalized learning from the safety of the home. Private online schools bring learning into the home, but they aren’t free.
    • Guaranteed acceptance. Enrollment in charter and cyber charter schools is open to all children, regardless of race, religion, disability, income, gender or any other qualifier. Private institutions are not always bound by federal and state nondiscrimination laws.
    • Parental involvement. Charter schools are, by nature, communities of adults who care about the quality of education their children are receiving. Parental involvement is encouraged in schoolwide decisions and in the daily schooling of their children. 

    Which Is Ideal for Your Child?                                                                     

    Parents searching for the differences between alternative school vs. charter school have one question in mind: Is there a school that fits my child? You want something better, something that traditional public schools don’t offer.

    Cyber charter schools check all the boxes that many families consider priorities.

    Personalized learning. The highly qualified, state-certified teachers of cyber charter schools recognize that each student has a different learning style. They harness the power of technology to customize learning according to the child’s needs, pacing, motivators, challenges and interests. These teachers are skilled at supporting students while challenging them to grow and reach their full potential.

    Lifelong perspective. CCA is a cyber charter school that educates the child today – with an eye on the adult he or she will be tomorrow. From an early age, students learn about the wide world of careers waiting to spark their interest. By high school, the learning course is charted to prepare them for success after graduation, whether they pursue college, career training, military service or the workforce.                                            

    Extracurricular activities. Children who participate in extracurricular activities do better in school and in life. Many cyber and cyber charter schools offer a rich menu of clubs and activities, and families also find opportunities in local sports leagues or arts organizations. Plus, in Pennsylvania, public school districts must open extracurricular participation to cyber charter school students who live in their geographic areas.

    Enroll In Cyber Charter School Today

    The Benefits of Cyber Charter Schools

    Bring learning into the home through cyber charter schooling, and magic happens:

    • A welcoming environment. At cyber charter schools, children of all backgrounds and abilities are free to be themselves, without fear of ridicule or bullying. They choose their own friends – not those thrust upon them in brick-and-mortar schools.                                              
    • Flexibility. Every family has responsibilities to work, community and faith that they take seriously. They also value family travel, the learning that the wide world has to offer, and the chance to let their children pursue their passions in competitive sports, the arts and other interests. The rigidity of traditional education, especially at brick-and-mortar public and private schools, makes juggling all those obligations a daily challenge. Cyber charter school students do their learning when and how it suits them. Families fit schooling into their lifestyles, making their children’s education that much richer and more relevant.
    • Parental peace of mind. Children enrolled in a cyber charter school are safe at home, learning under the watchful eye of a parent or trusted learning coach. Parents don’t have to wonder what their child is learning. They’re also secure in the knowledge that bullies, who like to do their work out of sight of adults, aren’t picking on their kids.  

    Learn More About Public Cyber School at CCA  

    We get it. You have so many questions. We’re here to answer them. Commonwealth Charter Academy rolls out our family and student resources when you’re thinking about enrolling and to help ease you into cyber learning after your family joins the CCA family. Discover why cyber charter schooling is ideal for your child by reaching out to CCA today.


    Commonwealth Charter Academy


    June 16th, 2020


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