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Charter School 101 – What You Need to Know

From what they are to how to teach at one, we break down the essentials of charter schools.

Coast to coast, charter schools are experiencing a surge in popularity.

During the 1999–2000 school year, there were just 1,500 charter schools in the U.S. By the 2012–2013 school year, that number had increased to 6,100.*

Charter School 101 – What You Need to Know

Despite this increase, many people still have basic questions about charter schools, from “What is a charter school?” to “How do charter schools work?” We’ve attempted to answer some common questions about charter schools, including the type of education you need if you’d like to teach at one.

What is a charter school?

A charter school is a publicly funded, privately run K–12 school that operates under a legislative contract within its state or jurisdiction. This contract, or “charter,” governs all aspects of the school’s operation, from curriculum to management.

While charter schools must meet the same state and federal education standards as public schools, their charters enable them to operate with a great deal more freedom than their public counterparts, which typically leads to innovative teaching styles, pioneering curriculum, and a unique school culture.

How do charter schools work?

Parents who wish to enroll their children in a charter school must apply for admission. While charter schools are open to all children and do not have special entrance requirements, their growing popularity often requires potential students to enter a lottery where students are chosen for admission at random.

Renowned for fostering educational partnerships between parents, teachers, and students, the semiautonomous nature of charter schools makes them ripe for progressive classroom environments that can modify curriculum to meet students’ evolving needs.

Who funds charter schools?

Just as there’s confusion about what a charter school is, there’s also confusion about charter school funding. While charter schools are privately managed, they’re publicly funded through tax dollars, which means, like public schools, they’re absolutely free to attend, no tuition required.

How do I become a charter school teacher?

If you’re interested in teaching in a charter school, but have less teaching experience than other education professionals, you’re in luck. According to the National Center for Education Statistics’ report The Condition of Education 2015,* 30% of charter school teachers are in their first year of teaching and 75% have taught for less than 10 years. While a few states that have passed charter school legislation currently do not have statewide requirements for charter school teacher licensure (Georgia, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas), most do, so an advanced education is a must.

If you already hold a bachelor’s degree (such as a BS in Elementary Education), or a master of arts in education (specifically a Master of Arts in Teaching or MAT degree), you’re well on your way to becoming a charter school teacher.

MAT degree programs provide aspiring educators with a strong foundation in teaching methods, critical child development milestones, and the essential core competencies and expertise to be an effective educator.

Online Master of Arts in Teaching degree programs are often a convenient option for working professionals who wish to earn their MAT degree, but don’t have the time to travel to class.

Discover how Walden University’s innovative online Master of Arts in Teaching degree program is helping train tomorrow’s educators, in a convenient and flexible format that fits their busy lives.

*G. Kena et al, The Condition of Education 2015, U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, on the Internet at

Walden offers both state-approved educator licensure programs as well as programs and courses that do not lead to licensure or endorsements. Prospective students must review their state licensure requirements prior to enrolling. For more information, please refer to

Prospective Alabama students: Contact the Teacher Education and Certification Division of the Alabama State Department of Education at 1-334-242-9935 or to verify that these programs qualify for teacher certification, endorsement, and/or salary benefits.

Note to all Pennsylvania residents: Walden University’s teacher preparation program is approved by the Minnesota Board of Teaching as leading to licensure. Because this program is not reviewed by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, candidates are instructed to apply for Pennsylvania certification as out-of-state graduates of a teacher preparation program.

Note to all Washington residents: Eligibility for initial educator certification in Washington is based on completion of a state-approved educator preparation program. This program is approved in Minnesota and is authorized for field placements in Washington by the Professional Educators Standards Board. Even though you may be residing in Washington while in this program, your application for educator certification in Washington will be processed as an out-of-state application. Go to for more information. Teachers are advised to contact their individual school districts as to whether this program may qualify for teacher advancement.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,