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Charter schools a good option

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HEGWER Bruce 2012

 

With a new school year beginning, it is a good time to review information about public charter schools in New Mexico.

Charter schools are tuition-free public schools open to any student in New Mexico. They are funded the same way as traditional schools, follow the same laws and regulations, and must deliver the same student outcomes as traditional schools. Public charters offer educational alternatives to parents and students looking for something different than what traditional public schools offer. It is important to note that all public charters are accredited by the New Mexico Public Education Department.

Collectively, charter schools did very well under the state’s A-F grading system and showed significant improvement over the grades charters received last year. This year, 22 of the 94 charters, or 23.4 percent, received an “A”. This is more than double the number of charters that received an “A” last year. Comparatively, 8 percent of traditional schools earned an “A” this year. The number of charter schools earning “B’s” and “C’s” increased over the previous year, and a greater percentage of charters earned these grades when compared to traditional public schools. The number of charters that received a “D” or an “F” decreased significantly and represents a lower percentage than traditional schools receiving the same grades. Needless to say, those of us in the charter community are very proud of the quality of charters and the improvement in school grades is evidence that the quality in improving.

Currently, there are 94 charter schools in New Mexico located throughout the state and delivering educational services to approximately 20,000 students. The majority of charter schools, 55 to be precise, are located in the Albuquerque area.

The following communities have one charter school: Aztec, Carlsbad, Cimarron, Deming, Farmington, Gadsden, Jemez Mountain, Los Lunas, Moriarty/Edgewood, Peñasco, Questa, Red River, Rio Rancho, Roswell, Silver City, Socorro and Las Vegas. There are three charter schools in Española; two in Gallup; two in Jemez Valley; five in Las Cruces; six in Santa Fe; and five in Taos.

Charter schools have many different grade level configurations. Eleven are elementary schools, nine are middle schools and 26 are high schools. Six comprise grades K-12; 23 are a combination of elementary and middle school grades; and 19 are middle school-high school grade combinations. Traditionally smaller in size with lower enrollments, the average charter school has about 250 students. The smallest one had eight students last year and the largest had 685.

Charter schools are approved in one of two ways. They can be opened with the approval of either a local school district or the New Mexico Public Education Commission. Of the 94 charter schools, 57 are authorized to open by the Public Education Commission and 37 are local, or authorized to open by a local school district. Only two new charters were authorized to open this new school year and two were recommended by the Public Education Commission for closure.

Each charter school, by virtue of the “charter,” has a unique mission and its curriculum is organized around that mission. In essence, these schools offer programs that appeal to the unique needs of students and parents. These include: dropout recovery; Montessori; science, technology, engineering and math; aeronautical; visually and auditory impaired; construction occupations; digital arts and technology; special needs; English language learners; health occupations; International Baccalaureate; college preparatory; performing and visual arts; and dual language programs.

This year, New Mexico also will have two virtual charter schools whose entire curriculum is offered online. They will serve students throughout New Mexico.

Public charter schools come in a wide variety of sizes and grade-level configurations, each with a unique focus. Charters perform well under the A-F school grading system, and offer great quality educational options for parents and students. Good luck and best wishes to every student for a successful school year!

Bruce Hegwer, executive director of the New Mexico Coalition for Charter Schools, writes a monthly column for the Journal.

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