In 2002, SRI released the first national evaluation of the U.S. Public Charter Schools Program established in 1994 by the U.S. Department of Education.
Charter schools are public schools that operate without many of the regulations that apply to “traditional” public schools. Parents can choose to send their children to a charter school; no tuition is charged. Each school has a charter—a contract that outlines the school’s mission, program, and types of students served. In 2011, the number of students attending public charter schools across the U.S. surpassed two million. As the movement has grown, it also has struggled. Stories have emerged about difficulties that charter schools faced in their first months and years.
SRI’s evaluation showed that in general, charter schools had overcome many of the start-up challenges identified in earlier research. Key findings included that on average, more than half of the students in charter schools were members of ethnic minorities, 12 percent received special education services, and 6 percent were English language learners.